Nearly all of the Minerals Management Service’s recent Cape Wind Draft Environmental Impact Statement gives the wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound a mostly glowing review.
But the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound cites more than a few environmental impacts in the DEIS that it believes the Minerals Management Service and the rest of the agencies reviewing the massive project need to pay closer attention to. Impacts on birds, scenic views, navigation, fish species, fishing and boating all received a moderate rating from the MMS. The Alliance also calls into question what it terms the excessive cost of Cape Wind’s wind energy and air travel hazards over Nantucket Sound in proximity to the wind farm.
Alliance President and CEO Glenn Wattley said the Alliance is working now to examine each impact that was given a moderate characterization by the MMS and figure out ways to address them.
“We’ve been retaining experts,” he said. “We have 40 experts on these topics, they are going over the topics [and] we’re spending quite a bit of money putting together a professional response for the public comment period,” he said.
Cape Wind Associates Communications Director Mark Rodgers, on the other hand, said that given the relatively low numbers of negligible to moderate impacts noted by the Alliance, the DEIS overwhelmingly supports Cape Wind’s proposal.
“The alliance is running out of agencies to criticize,” said Rodgers. “This is the fourth time that a government agency has published a comprehensive examination of Cape Wind, and each and every time these four different agencies have found substantial public benefits and very little adverse impact.”
On the issue of coastal birds, namely, roseate terns and the MMS’s belief that there would be negligible to moderate impact to the species, Wattley said that because the roseate tern is an endangered species, any mortality as a result of the project is unacceptable. He cited the large numbers of birds killed by wind turbines located on Altamont Pass in California, and the turbine owners there not doing enough to prevent bird deaths.
“The roseate tern and the piping plover, certainly the roseate tern, is an endangered species [and] our view is you’re dealing with endangered species … and the program would end up with endangered species being killed.”
This also applies in varying degrees to the marine bird species on which the MMS said the project would have negligible to moderate impacts during construction and operation, including common eider and long-tailed ducks, Northern gannets and scoters. Currently, the Alliance has one of its 40 experts studying how the wind farm would affect marine bird habitat and what the value of that habitat is.
Rodgers said that support from the Massachusetts Audubon Society says it all.
“They have not only been studying the bird studies [produced already], but they’ve also done their own bird studies in the Sound and they have traveled to Denmark and tracked the successful track record there of birds,” said Rodgers. “As a result of all of that they have moved to a position of conditional support and I think they are a greater authority than the Alliance.”
Beneath the waves on the bottom of the Sound, the MMS said that the spawning of bottom-dwelling fish would be moderately affected during construction of the wind farm. While Wattley responded that the disturbance of this habitat would negatively impact commercial fishing, Rodgers said it would be a one-time disturbance.
“The sea bottom is regularly undergoing disruptions from storms and from fish nets,” he said.
Viewers of the wind farm from the closest shorelines, including those in Hyannis, Hyannisport, Mashpee and Centerville, would experience minor disruptions during construction and would be moderately disrupted during its operation. Both sides seem to agree with the MMS’s assessment that there would be a major impact of views from vessels on Nantucket Sound. Wattley added that all these impacts could negatively impact the regional economy.
“The whole issue of disruption on the horizon; there are restrictions on the aesthetics on Cape Cod,” said Wattley of some of the towns closest to the project. “It’s been a controversial one, so to call it a minor impact certainly minimizes the controversy over that issue. The people who are worried about tourism and related businesses; it’s a big issue for them, it’s not minor.”
Rodgers more or less agreed with Wattley on the severity of visual impacts from land and sea.
“If you’re in a boat right next to the wind farm, the seascape looks very different than it did before,” said Rodgers.
And it will for the sailors in the annual Figawi race between Nantucket and Hyannis on Memorial Day weekend, as the MMS believes the Figawis will experience moderate impacts while racing near the wind turbines.
“The people who do the Figawi head in that direction and a significant portion of the course goes across Horseshoe Shoal,” said Wattley.
Rodgers said experienced sailors should be up to the task of navigating around and through new obstacles that are 600 to 900 yards apart in their course.
By Peter B Brace
30 January 2008