WEST YARMOUTH – The first of four highly anticipated public hearings on the wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound did not disappoint.
From faux pirates and scuba divers to real miners from West Virginia and dueling testimony literally sung into the record, last night’s hearing at Mattacheese Middle School took on the diverse and, at times, carnival atmosphere familiar to those who have attended previous hearings on Cape Wind.
About 900 people crowded into the school auditorium.
“Great idea, wrong location,” opponents of the project shouted outside the school as they waved a tennis court-sized sign in the cool evening breeze. Proponents raised a forest of pro-wind-farm signs above the blue tarp in an attempt to steal the media spotlight.
In the background, costumed demonstrators mingled with men and women dressed in business attire. Signs on both sides of the debate lined the driveway in front of the school.
For the first hour of the public comment period local politicians spoke for and against the plan by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in the Sound.
State Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, began the night with a comparison of an ocean management bill he had worked on earlier in the day and the review of Cape Wind.
“It puts the public purpose ahead of the private purpose,” O’Leary said about the state legislation. “That is in sharp contrast in what I’ve seen going forward with this project.”
O’Leary and other speakers directed their comments to a panel of three U.S. Minerals Management officials who sat stoically throughout the six-hour event. The federal agency is responsible for the lead role in reviewing Cape Wind. MMS released a draft environmental report in January that was mostly favorable toward the project.
The project, first proposed in 2001, has reached a critical point in the permitting process. A final report on Cape Wind is due out by the end of the year and Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said at a press conference held yesterday afternoon that he hoped to begin construction in 2010.
Most elected officials joined O’Leary to speak out against the project, citing concerns over catastrophic oil spills and impact on the local economy.
“Anyone who would suggest that looking out on these things is not a befouling of the coastline does not have the same sense of aesthetics as I do,” said Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.
State Rep. Matthew Patrick, D-Falmouth, was one of the few politicians who defended Cape Wind.
“My support for Cape Wind was always based on it passing the environmental impact review,” Patrick said. The project continues to receive approvals, Patrick said.
If Cape Wind came online the Mirant Canal Power Plant in Sandwich could likely be shut off except for days when there is a peak load on the electrical grid, such as occurs on the hottest summer days, Patrick said.
While local views of the proposed location for Cape Wind were a popular subject of comments, the view from West Virginia homes was raised by a handful of speakers who traveled from that state to testify.
“I’m here representing the people of Appalachia,” said Chuck Nelson, from Boone County, W.Va. “You know I used to like the view from my backyard but it’s been blown up.”
Nelson and other miners, who teamed up with the pro-Cape Wind group, Clean Power Now, said that mountain removal in the South was the alternative to renewable energy.
“Our entire mountain culture is being sacrificed for our so-called cheap energy,” Nelson said.
While most speakers sympathized with Nelson and his fellow miners, the Cape and Islands’ own culture was at stake, they said.
Mashpee Selectman George “Chuckie” Green asked how the project would be able to care for possible human remains of Mashpee Wampanoag found during construction.
“Tell me how you can do that in 60 feet of water?” he said. “I don’t think it can be done.”
The effect on marine mammals concerned Sharon Young of Sagamore Beach. Young, who is the Marine Issues Field Director for the Humane Society for the U.S., said that the draft environmental impact statement produced by MMS did not have enough data on marine mammals in the Sound.
“I think this document is a classic example that weight of paper does not equal weight of evidence,” she said.
Cliff Caroll of South Yarmouth, a vocal opponent of Cape Wind, said the entire MMS report should be thrown out.
“In my opinion your negligence in this flawed document “¦ borders on the criminal,” Caroll said.
Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now disagreed.
“The MMS has done an impressive job of preparing this document,” she said. Cape Wind has undergone more review than any other nuclear or power plant in Massachusetts and should be built, said Hill, adding, “Future generations will view us as either heroes or fools.”
Perhaps one of the most entertaining moments of the night came when Carl Freeman of Orleans sang two ditties in favor of Cape Wind to a pair of Beatles tunes.
Not to be outdone, an opponent of the project raised an iPod and speakers with an anti-wind farm tune in the song list at the end of his comment.
By 10 p.m. more than 60 attendees had spoken of the 186 who had signed up. Another hundred audience members waited their turn.
For Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard that chance comes tonight and tomorrow at 5 p.m.. A hearing is scheduled in South Boston on Thursday.
By Patrick Cassidy
11 March 2008
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