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Cape Cod wind farm plan inches forward

A key federal agency said Monday that a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod would pose no major environmental problems, giving a boost to the project that has sparked a long and bitter public fight.

A draft environmental report by the Minerals Management Service said plans by developer Cape Wind Associates to build 130 windmills across 25 miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound would have mostly “minor” or “negligible” effects on wildlife, ocean navigation, fishing and tourism.

“This has been a long, hard road and we are extremely pleased today,” Cape Wind president Jim Gordon told reporters at a Boston news conference.

The proposal would build the nation’s first offshore wind farm _ with turbines rising up to 440 feet above sea level when the tallest blades point straight up. It has been controversial since it was proposed more than six years ago, pitting some of the state’s top politicians against each other.

A spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the leading opposition group to the wind farm, said the report underestimated the project’s environmental threats.

“We’re disappointed because there are still gaps in what’s been put in the report,” said Glenn Wattley in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Statements that there is minimal environmental impact, we think are wrong. There are very important and serious impacts.”

After a public comment period on its preliminary report, the Minerals Management Service is expected to make a final decision this fall on the fate of the project. Public hearings will be held in March in West Yarmouth, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Boston.

Various federal and state agencies have been reviewing the wind farm plans since November 2001.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whose family’s Hyannis Port compound would have a clear view of the farm, opposes it, citing risks to fishing, navigation, aviation and the sanctuary of Nantucket Sound. Kennedy also has branded the project a government handout to a developer who stands to gain from huge tax breaks.

Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick, who has pledged to boost the state as a center for alternative energy, supports the Cape Wind project and has said the state needs to invest in environmentally friendly energy technology.

The Conservation Law Foundation, a long-time advocate of the project, said the environmental report was a good sign.

“Cape Wind is one of the nation’s most promising clean energy projects,” foundation president Philip Warburg said in a statement. “When built, its 130 turbines will deliver clean energy to thousands of households, making an immediate impact in the region’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and end our dependency on dirty fossil fuels.”

Even after the government makes a final decision, Cape Cod congressman and project foe Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., has predicted there will be a flood of litigation challenging whatever is decided. Delahunt opposes no-bid wind farms on federal lands and waters, a spokesman said Monday.

Opponents also fear possible effects on Cape Cod’s tourist and fishing industries. The project has drawn criticism from commercial fishermen, cruise lines, wildlife advocates and Cape Cod representatives.

Gordon said project backers have spend about $30 million so far. He estimated the project would cost about $1.2 billion.

By Andrew Miga
Associated Press Writer


14 January 2008