Supporters and opponents of Cape Wind’s proposal to place 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will have an opportunity to comment on the project on Wednesday.
The US Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will hold a public hearing, one of a series of four in Massachusetts, from 5 pm to 10 pm in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School performing arts center.
The purpose is to obtain public comment on the MMS’s recently published 2,000-page draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the Cape Wind project.
The subject may be wind, but the forum will not provide time for longwinded statements. Three minutes will be allotted to each speaker, said MMS officials, who explained the hearing process in a telephone interview with The Times on Monday.
The public forum is the latest step in an MMS review process that began two years ago. The minerals agency is responsible for managing national natural gas, oil, and other mineral resources. The 182.6-megawatt renewable energy project proposed by Cape Wind Associates LLC in 2001 is the first offshore wind energy project to go before MMS for review.
The draft EIS [available at mvttimes.com] cites no major environmental impacts of the project that would be located on Horseshoe Shoal. The report references “negligible and minor” impacts on environmental conditions, including water quality, coastal vegetation, and noise pollution.
According to a published notice, “seven alternatives are analyzed in detail in the draft EIS: the proposed action at Horseshoe Shoal, no action, a smaller configuration at Horseshoe Shoal, phased development at Horseshoe Shoal, a condensed array at Horseshoe Shoal, or alternative sites at Monomoy Shoals and south of Tuckernuck Island.” ?
Supporters of Cape Wind found much to be happy about in the draft EIS. Opponents of the project contended it did not properly address all of the issues. The final form of the EIS will be critical to all sides.
In the last several weeks proponents and opponents of Cape Wind have waged a public information campaign designed to turn out their supporters at the MMS hearings.
On Feb. 11, representatives of Cape Wind and Clean Power Now, a Cape-based citizens group of alternative energy supporters, sponsored a meeting in Tisbury devoted to describing the reasons there is an immediate need to develop alternative sources of energy. Speakers cited global warming, air pollution, environmental degradation of coastal resource areas, and increasing global competition for diminishing supplies of fossil fuels.
Save Our Sound, a Cape-based group opposed to the wind farm, has mounted a mail and advertising campaign designed to generate attendance at the hearings. One ad shows a small bird on a beach and a city skyline in the background. “At 25 square miles, the Nantucket Sound power plant would be the size of Manhattan,” reads an ad. “The public hearings are your chance to help stop it.”
The MMS hearing begins at 5 pm. People who would like to speak will need to register with MMS, and they will be called based on their assigned number. MMS will staff the registration table with eight people from 4 pm onward.
‘We are anticipating quite a crowd,” Dr. Rodney Cluck, project manager for Cape Wind, told The Times Monday.
People will speak in the order they register, with the exception of elected public officials. According to the hearing protocol, the speaker list will move from federal to state to local officials.
The benefits of public office will not extend to the allotted time. Elected leaders will also be limited to three minutes.
The evening will begin with a brief overview by moderator Chris Moore of the rules and procedures that govern the hearing. Robert LaBelle, deputy associate director for offshore minerals management, will then describe the role and functions of the Minerals Management Service. Mr. Cluck will follow with a presentation on the Cape Wind Project and the findings in the draft EIS.
The public will then have an opportunity to comment. There will be no questions and answers. “What we do at public hearings is receive information,” said Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for alternative energy programs. “It is not a dialog with the public. This is the public’s opportunity after reviewing the draft EIS to offer their comments and thoughts on the draft EIS to the Mineral’s Management Service.”
MMS officials said speakers could make the best use of their time by commenting directly on the draft EIS as opposed to more general comments. “If folks comment on that impact statement, something of substance, we can use that information to improve it and incorporate that information into our final,” said Mr. Cluck.
People are free to speak and submit comments in writing at the hearing. MMS is also accepting written comments through March 20 electronically at https://ocsconnec t.mms.gov/pcs-public/.
MMS will assemble all of the comments, sort them, and analyze them, said Mr. Cluck, who added that all of the comments will be considered. “These comments will be used to help us improve the final environmental impact statement,” he said.
A final EIS is expected some time this fall. But even a positive statement will not pave the way to wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Several other federal and state agencies will have the opportunity to comment and raise any issues prior to the completion of a document called the “record of decision.”
Depending on the decision MMS could approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove the project.
More reviews and company submissions would follow. Citing an offshore drilling platform in a unique area of the Gulf of Mexico as an example, Ms. Bornholdt said that even assuming all goes well the entire review process could consume more than two years before any construction can start. She said the EIS is the first step in what would be an incremental regulatory process. “You are not going to see 130 monopiles all of a sudden bloom in Nantucket Sound,” she said.
For information from supporters of Cape Wind, go to www.cleanpowernow.org. For information from opponents, go to www.saveoursound.org.
By Nelson Sigelman
6 March 2008
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