More than 3,200 written submissions have been received in response to the draft environmental impact statement on the Cape Wind project, and the federal Minerals Management Service has been forced to extend the deadline for comment by a month so yet more can be made.
The original 60-day period for comment was to have ended on March 20, but now will run until April 21.
Cape Wind has proposed building 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. The company has said that the wind farm could generate up to 420 megawatts of power.
The Minerals Management Service, the key regulator of the project, has been inundated with written comments on the proposed wind farm. The agency expects large crowds to turn up to comment in person at a series of public hearings being held next week, including one on the Vineyard Wednesday evening.
The question now is whether the five hours set aside for taking oral comments at the Vineyard hearing – which will allow a maximum of fewer than 100 people to speak – will be enough.
And the limited time for the public forum has encouraged a new dispute between those for and against the project over the potential to stack the speakers list.
The process has been set up so that those wanting to speak will have to register in the hour before it begins, will be allocated a number, and then will be called in turn.
Registration for the hearing will begin at 4 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School; the meeting will begin at 5, and end at 10 p.m.
The format is that there will be introductory comments from two Minerals Management speakers, associate offshore director Bob LaBelle, followed by Rodney Cluck, the project manager who oversaw the preparation of the 2,000-page draft environmental impact statement on Cape Wind.
Elected officials – federal, state and local – will be given precedence on the speakers list, and then everybody else. There will be a three-minute time limit on every speaker, and their comments will be recorded by a stenographer. The submissions will then be taken into account for the final environmental impact statement, due for completion sometime in the fall.
The federal agency has no mechanism in place to ensure one side or the other cannot dominate the speakers list, although those who do not get the chance to talk will be able to put their comments in writing and submit them.
Audra Parker, the assistant director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said her organization planned to have many of its supporters make both oral and written submissions.
“We will be there. Multiples of us will be speaking. We have 30 to 40 experts that we have hired – experts on avian issues, benthic, navigation, economics, whatever – whose written testimony we will be submitting.
“They will also be at the meeting. We’re going to try to cover a host of those issues at the meeting, as well as submitting a comprehensive written testimony,” Ms. Parker said.
The communications director for Cape Wind, Mark Rodgers, criticized the tactic. He said while representatives of the company would be at the meeting, they would be there to listen, not speak.
“If the Alliance plans to ship in dozens of hired guns to take the microphone time from local Martha’s Vineyard residents, that is both insulting and disrespectful to the local community,” he said.
“We are not going out and hiring stables of consultants, although we are encouraging interested stakeholders to express their views.”
But the boundary between stakeholder and consultant is ill-defined.
Edgartown fisherman Tom Turner, for example, spent a lot of time in February going through the whole draft report to prepare a submission for the Save Our Sound group. Most of it, he said, was pro bono, although he received some help with expenses for printing.
He also intends to speak at the hearing, but said he would be doing so solely as a representative of Island fishermen.
“I’ve fished every square foot of the Horseshoe Shoal,” he said, “and I’m troubled at the way the DEIS minimizes the impact of the project on the environment and on the fishing industry.”
He said it would have a major effect on fish breeding because of sediment stirred up by the laying of more than 80 miles of interconnected cabling between the turbine pylons.
The sediment would have a smothering effect on eggs, he said. “The DEIS says there would be sedimentation impacts up to 1,500 feet from the trenches. We calculate up to 13,000 acres would be affected.”
He feared the construction could permanently change the environment.
“For example, one of the results of pounding large steel pipes into the seabed to support these turbines, is scouring of the bottom. That is, the currents remove material as they wash around these pylons.
“They propose to handle this by placing rock armor around the base of each pile. They are talking about bringing 646 barge loads of rock fill in to do it, although they don’t say exactly how big the barges or how much rock.
“But the result is thousands of tons of rock are going to be dumped on top of what is essentially a big underwater sand dune,” Mr. Turner said.
Cape Wind’s Mark Rodgers was dismissive of the effect of the project on local fishermen.
“You hear some wild claims sometimes about how much commercial fishing is allegedly occurring on Horseshoe Shoal, but we’ve put together 10 years’ worth of data from the federal government on the catches, on where the fishermen in federal waters in Nantucket Sound are reporting their catch as coming from.
“And four per cent of the trawler/dragger catch in the federal portion of Nantucket Sound come from Horseshoe Shoal, according to these reports from the fishermen themselves,” he said. “And it’s less for other gear types. I think that’s an important piece of perspective.”
But local fishermen, including Mr. Turner and the West Tisbury shellfish constable Tom Osmers, said the statistics quoted by both Cape Wind and the draft environmental impact statement were simply and dramatically wrong.
Mr. Osmers cited the draft report’s numbers on conch fishing as an example.
“The draft EIS, they had our conch landings maximized at 300,000 pounds and in decline since the year 2000, which is absolutely false.
“The value of this fishery is increasing. It is the largest, by volume, fishery on the Cape and Islands. The Vineyard alone lands between two and three million pounds per year, primarily from the Horseshoe Shoal area.
“It’s the biggest fishery we have. Plus there’s all the squid, the sea bass, the flounder, the fluke. Everybody in the whole fleet fishes some of their gear on Horseshoe Shoal. Without the Horseshoe, we’d be in trouble, the fleet here on the Island.
“All this dredging and laying wires and six-foot trenches between them [the turbines] and to the mainland, I can’t think how it’s not going to affect egg production, affect migration, affect [the conches’ winter] hibernation.”
Yet the draft statement, he said, calculated “the negative effect of the project on the conch fishery as a mere 199 pounds of lost conch.”
Mr. Osmers noted the project, if it proceeds, will trigger a marine security review by the Department of Homeland Security. He said there was no offshore wind project in the world which allowed fishing within its boundaries, and it was likely local fishermen would be excluded.
And even if they were permitted to fish, some equipment could not be used because of the spacing of the turbines.
“They’re one-third of a mile apart. Many of the mobile gear vessels won’t be able to work there. The tide runs two, two and a half knots. It’s always foggy there in the spring . . . ”
If the project were to proceed, he said, fishermen would have to be compensated for their lost income. He noted the precedent of a liquid natural gas facility, where a coalition of fishermen won $16 million in compensation.
“If we can’t stop this thing,” he said, “they’ve got to pay. They’ve got to mitigate. If they don’t mitigate, we’ve got to litigate.”
By Mike Seccombe
7 March 2008
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