That Cape Codders remain divided about the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm was well evidenced during Monday night’s public hearing at Mattakeese Middle School.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and more than 10,000 Massachusetts citizens are for the proposal, while dozens of town, county and state politicians and thousands of other residents are against.
With the meeting seeing a similar number of equally ardent supporters and detractors, the question becomes, “Whose testimony means more?”
That’s what the federal Minerals Management Service needs to determine after taking testimony from public officials and citizens at this hearing, as well as three others scheduled over the next few nights in Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Boston.
Those hearings and the more than 3,000 written comments already submitted will go toward the MMS’s continued review of the recently completed Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project.
After a brief explanation of the project and MMS findings by Rodney Cluck, Cape Wind project manager for the group, facilitator Chris Moore of CDR Associates in Boulder, Colo. led the six-hour hearing.
Cluck was joined onstage by Robert LaBelle, deputy associate director of the MMS offshore program, and Maureen Bornholdt, manager for the Outer Continental Shelf Alternative Energy and alternate Use Program.
The trio listened to mostly-peaceful pleas from both sides, ranging from sober testimonials to impromptu singing performances.
From the costumes worn by protesting opponents – the garb of pirates and fishermen – to the concerns discussed by both sides – visual impact, public safety, economics and security concerns, among others – speakers made obvious the project’s significance to Cape Cod.
State Sen. Rob O’Leary, an outspoken opponent of the project, said he spent the hours before the hearing discussing the project, its repercussions and possible compromises with Patrick. To O’Leary, a major problem is that there is “a sharp contrast to what I see unfolding on this project” and what was originally proposed.
Though he hopes a final decision will help dissolve the “acrimony…and division” among his constituents, he has proposed that an exhaustive federal ocean management study be completed before the project.
Like speakers before and after him, Chatham selectman and Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates member Ronald Bergstrom stressed Cape Codders’ appreciation for wind energy and their hesitation at the proposed location.
According to Bergstrom, his town and others have taken steps to allow smaller wind energy projects to be created. “We are far from being people of limited vision,” he said.
However, Bergstrom said, the Sound isn’t the right place for a project. “I don’t have a big house on the water and I’m not a millionaire. But I love Nantucket Sound.”
Economic reasons for denying the project, including financial obligations, job creation and affect on the tourism industry, were echoed by business owners and politicians alike.
“In a highly competitive tourism market, the view is important,” said Wendy Northcross, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO. People do not travel “to view power plants.”
To State Rep. Matthew Patrick, though, the project would go far toward helping decrease the impact of another local plant.
During the hearing, Patrick discussed information he received as a member of the state energy commission suggesting that, if a Nantucket Sound wind farm was created, production at the Cape Cod Canal power plant would be significantly reduced “because it could not compete due to the price of oil.”
The plant would continue to operate a few months of the year, likely during summer when more energy is required, Patrick said, but would be shut down completely during other times.
Other issues discussed at the hearing ranged from the project’s affect on jobs – positive according to a Massachusetts AFL-CIO representative, negative according to Northcross – to how Cape Cod’s legacy would change.
Whichever direction the project goes in, “Future generations will either view us as heroes or fools,” said Barbara Hill, executive director of support group Clean Power Now.
Though speakers on both sides expressed their view that the project’s impact – whether positive or negative – on Cape Codders is obvious, a few attested to the project’s significance to people from much further across the bridge.
According to the testimony of Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, a wind farm on Cape Cod would positively affect her constituents in Appalachia.
Keating and three coal miners from Kentucky and West Virginia discussed the negative impact of mountaintop coal mining on the health, well-being and economy of the area.
“The folks in Appalachia… are tired of bearing the burden of the country’s energy,” she said. Cape Wind “will help the transition” to a cleaner way of creating energy.
Keating was supported by the testimony of three lifelong miners, who told their own stories about how the turbine would mean a positive change in their way of life.
To Keating, though, the impact hits even closer to home. Through tears, she shared the story of a 3-year-old boy killed by falling rocks from a mountain mining site. “We need your help,” she said. “We’re asking you to be heroes.”
Local issue, local discussion
Though sympathetic for the miners, some speakers wished to stay focused on what the proposal would mean for those facing it on a daily basis.
“We feel very sorry for the coal miners,” said Cliff Carroll, a fisherman and a founder of anti-wind farm group Windstock. “But please let’s not forget the fisherman.”
Carroll stated that his group, while in support of wind energy, believes the currently proposed location will harm the Cape’s fishing industry.
Jim Keating, a fisherman who has worked in Nantucket Sound for 24 years, agrees. “I’m one of those fishermen that no one seems to see,” he said. “I’m gonna be displaced.”
Mashpee Wampanoag representative and Mashpee Selectman Charles “Chucky” Green said that, for his tribe, the affects go even deeper. Legends in the tribe dating back 10,000 years, he said, state that the islands at Horseshoe Shoals were once burial grounds. To dig there and possibly dislodge burial sites would harm traditions.
“Tell me how, in 60 feet of water, you’re gonna notice human remains,” he said. Though his tribe was promised remuneration, Green said the tradition was more important. “How do we replace that?…With electricity? I don’t think so.”
Project proponent Hill believes that, rather than destroying the Cape’s legacy, a wind farm will enhance it. According to Hill, the project, “is a monumental opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint,” she said.
Though Hill recognizes the visual impact the project will have on the Cape, she believes it’s a small price to pay for helping future generations.
To Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe and others, however, that view is precisely what needs to be protected. Aside from the affect, recognized by Cluck during his introduction, on Cape staples like the annual Figawi race, O’Keefe believes the visual impact of the proposal is enough.
Friends from away who visit the Cape, he said, always request to visit the coastline first. “The first thing they want to do is see the ocean, he said. “[The project] is a befouling of the coastline.”
For both supporters and opponents of the project and its EIS, any discussion needs to stay focused on Cape Cod. “This is not Galveston, Texas. It is not the Gulf of Mexico,” said Carroll. “This is Nantucket Sound. This is our home.”
Further hearings will be held Tuesday at Nantucket High School, March 12 at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and March 13 at U-Mass Boston’s Campus Center Ballroom.
The MMS hopes to recommend a decision on the EIS by fall, with a final record of the decision by winter or spring 2009. Comments must be submitted to MMS by April 21 at http://ocsconnect.mms.gov/pcs-public or by mail to MMS Cape Wind Energy Project, TRC Environmental Corporation, Wannalancit Mills, 650 Suffolk St., Lowell, MA 01854.
Written by Heather Wysocki
11 March 2008
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