A passel of picketers, press corps, proponents and even coal miners from Kentucky and West Virginia, greeted the Minerals Management Service at the first of their four local hearings on Cape Wind’s plan to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
The first hearing, scheduled for six hours, was held at the Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth on Monday night. More than 180 people signed up to speak but most wouldn’t be heard since speakers were given three minutes apiece, later cut to two and a half, and close to 20 politicians spoke before any citizens.
Three MMS representatives were treated to personal tales, detailed critiques of their draft Environmental Impact Statement, many Save Our Sound and Clean Power Now buttons, at least three songs, some tears, many prepared statements and strong testimonials for tidal power.
The MMS issued its Draft EIS in January and has extended the comment period through April 21. It should issue the final EIS in the fall and a record of the decision 30 days later.
Cape Wind’s backers say the wind farm would provide 468 megawatts at peak power. Turbines would cover 25 square miles and rise 440 feet above Nantucket Sound.
State Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, cited his Massachusetts Ocean Management Act and suggested the federal government ought to have something similar.
“The act puts public purpose above the private purpose,” he said. “I think that is in sharp contrast to what I see unfurling around this project in federal waters.”
Chip Bishop read a statement from Rep. Jeff Perry, R-Sandwich.
“It is my belief the wind farm proposal remains flawed,” he said. “My major concern is the commercial fishing industry in this region will be negatively impacted.” Perry believes it could lead to the loss of 2,500 jobs.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe worried about the project’s impact on emergency situations.
“I can’t help but think that putting as many of these [turbines] at a height of 440 feet in the water so close to an obvious [coastal navigation zone] is asking that they be run into by either a plane or a boat and it seems to me that this has not been given its due weight,” O’Keefe remarked.
Chatham Selectman Ron Bergstrom, who is also a member of the Assembly of Delegates and a fisherman was also concerned about environmental impacts.
“People on the Cape and Islands depend on our environment for economic survival, the tourism industry, the fishing industry and second homeowners. This forms the underpinnings of a lot of our economy,” he said. “I see this as being a detriment to the Cape and the benefits it will provide are more than compensated by the detrimental effects on the livelihood and lifestyles of the people who live here.”
Rep. Matt Patrick, D-Falmouth, noted the proposed wind farm would allow the Mirant power plant on the Cape Cod Canal to shut down except on days of peak demand.
“Southeastern Massachusetts ratepayers have been paying $9 million a month to keep the Canal plant running at 70 percent of its capacity,” he noted.
Patrick cited a potential benefit to air quality if the Canal plant closes.
George Green Jr. is a Mashpee selectman and member of the Wampanoag tribe. He raised the possibility that the turbine construction could disturb Indian burial grounds in the sound, which 10,000 years ago, was dry land. The turbine would also block celestial ceremonies at sunrise.
“It’s a great idea but it’s the wrong place to do it,” he said.
Falmouth Selectman Ahmed Mustafa was in favor of the proposal.
“All the things I’ve heard negatively about this project are because people are afraid and worry about the unknown,” he said. “Is anybody worried about a meteor falling from the sky and striking this building? I don’t think so. I don’t see anybody leaving.”
Yarmouth Selectman Chairwoman Suzanne McAuliffe pointed out that each wind turbine would hold 290 gallons of mineral fuel oil and over the course of a year the project would consume 80,000 gallons.
“We cannot get any information or details about what is in that,” she said. “If there is a spill in the transformers or towers ground zero is five miles to the Yarmouth beaches.”
She pointed out Cape Wind has provided quantities of information but not quality info.
Janet Joakim, President of the Barnstable Town Council was the first of many Barnstable counselors to speak.
“We feel we’re being left out of this process,” she said. “Yarmouth, Barnstable and Mashpee are really the abutters of this project. We would be the first responders to any disaster.”
Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Hyannis, also had a statement read in opposition the Wind Farm.
“When something lacks common sense and physical sense that means it makes absolutely no sense,” his statement said.
“What you are about to approve is eminent domain in reverse,” said Barnstable Town Councilor Greg Milne. “This is public property you are about to hand over to a private corporation.”
“Your report clearly states that none of the sites appear to be profitable at today’s electric rates,” agreed Counselor Richard Barry. “How much is this going to cost the local consumer?”
“If you think a horror is going to be visited upon you and despoil our Sound – you are correct,” declared Yarmouth Selectman Bud Groskopf.
John Griffin, Vice Chairman of the Barnstable Municipal Airport Commission raised concern about air navigation. There are 400,000 flights over the sound each year.
“These turbine towers frighteningly close to 500 feet above me really do pose a hazard,” he said. “We think it is clear the draft report ignored the concerns of pilots and airport managers around the Sound.”
The first private citizen to speak was a coal miner from Harlan County, Kentucky. There were four speakers from mining country where mountaintop removal is devastating to valleys and hills. One of them, Janet Keating, was in tears as she described the death of a three-year old boy from falling rock. Eighty percent of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal.
“Seven hundred-and-thirty miles of streams have been destroyed in Eastern Kentucky,” reported Carl Shoupe. “Our drinking water has high levels of minerals. This approach to meeting our energy needs is destroying our communities in Appalachia. Please support this proposal.”
“I used to like the view from my back yard but it’s been blown up,” added Jack Nelson of Boone County, West Virginia.
Barbara Hill, President of Clean Power Now, praised the draft EIS as scientifically vetted and peer-reviewed.
“The MMS has done an impressive job,” she said. “Out of 118 categories assessed all but nine had negligible impacts. The one major impact was visual, on the water, as you approached the project.”
She noted that 15 offshore wind projects have been built in Europe since Cape Wind first proposed this project in 2000.
Glenn Wattley, CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound was on the other side and he was disappointed in the draft EIS which he said was no better than the earlier one from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“There are many issues that need to be addressed and it looks as though we will need a supplemental draft EIS,” he said.
“The bias of this document is very clear,” agreed Cliff Carroll, the co-founder of WindStop.org. “It’s a misleading, inaccurate report that you produced.”
“This is not Galveston Texas. This is not the Gulf of Mexico. It is Nantucket Sound,” he informed the MMS. “It is the heart and soul of the economic engine of how we survive down here.”
“This document should be thrown out,” he concluded.
By Rich Eldred
11 March 2008
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