Selectmen Chairman Whitey Willauer was the first to speak against Cape Wind’s proposal to put up 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound during Tuesday night’s federal public hearing in the Nantucket High School auditorium. Up next, Selectman Vice Chairman Michael Kopko was the first to speak in favor.
And so it went for the next four hours, with Nantucketers equally divided on the controversial $1 billion project that has generated intense debate since first proposed in 2001.
The hearing was one in a series of public forums scheduled by the federal Minerals Management Service this week on the Cape and Islands, with a hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the UMass-Boston athletic center.
Of the 60 speakers who stood at the microphone Tuesday, 48 were from Nantucket and the remaining 12 from off-island, most members of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the chief opponent of the project.
Of the 48 Nantucketers who spoke, 24 were in favor of the $1 billion project to harness the wind and generate electricity, and 24 were against building the country’s first offshore wind farm in the middle of Nantucket Sound.
While Cape Wind’s proposal to build the wind farm will no doubt have its greatest impact on future generations, most of the more than 400 people who attended the public hearing were an older crowd in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
The line to get into the high school started forming around 2 p.m., with many from Clean Power Now, a pro-wind farm group, and The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound planting their picket signs along Surfside Road. Acting collegial, some protesters and cheerleaders recognized and greeted each other.
Most who spoke against the project said the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was filled with factual errors, the wind farm would be a hazard to navigation for boats and airplanes, and that they were for wind power, but did not want project to be in Nantucket Sound.
Proponents for Cape Wind said Nantucket was poised to be a regional, national and world leader in clean energy and it was time to free the country from the slavery of buying oil from our foreign enemies. While wind power will not be a panacea for the problems caused by global warming, those for wind power felt it was a step in the right direction and urged the MMS to endorse the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Nantucketer H. Flint Ranney, chairman of the Steamship Authority, asked the MMS to wait until the U.S. Coast Guard files a report on the impact the wind farm will have on navigation.
“It will reduce ferry routes in fog or stormy weather,” said Ranney.
Nantucket Memorial Airport manager Al Peterson opposed the wind farm on safety issues.
The propeller action of the turbines would create a peppering or a black hole on an airplane’s radar, he said.
“We have 1,000 operations a day at Nantucket airport and there are also the impacts to Coast Guard helicopter rescue operations. Senator (Edward) Kennedy and Congressman (William) Delahunt have encouraged you to take your time,” he said.
Nancy Wheatley, who fished with her father on Horseshoe Shoal 30 years ago, and worked with a group affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology for alternative energy, was in favor of the project.
“I wouldn’t fly to Boston or take the boat to the Cape if the pilots and the captains could not navigate around the wind farm,” she said.
Peter Sawyer was one of the few sailors who spoke in favor of the wind farm.
“I’ve been sailing Nantucket Harbor and Nantucket Sound over 70 years and the idea the wind farm would close off sailing in the sound is ridiculous,” said Sawyer. “Even the Figawi could sail through a channel a half-mile wide.”
Sawyer was addressing the MMS concern about the annual Memorial Day Weekend Figawi sailboat race boats being able to clear the wind farm.
Laura Wasserman, a member of the Nantucket chapter of Clean Power Now worried about global warming and rising sea levels, said, “We are on the Titanic and there are not enough life boats. The wind farm is our life boat.”
“Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reports the island is losing six acres a year with rising sea levels directly related to global warming,” added Wasserman.
Robert LaBelle, deputy associate director for offshore minerals management, one of the three MMS public hearing officials, said should the project be approved, it would be approved with conditions and that Cape Wind would be required to post a bond for the decommissioning of the wind farm in the event it fails.
Yet, many speakers were worried Cape Wind developers would leave the 400-foot-tall turbines in the water, should the project fail.
Some of the pro-wind farm speakers accused the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound of taking a NIMBY, or “Not In My Back Yard” approach, speaking of the waterfront home owners on the Cape, who might be able to see the wind turbines.
“The Alliance says, ‘Right Idea, wrong place,’ which sounds like ‘NIMBY’,” said Victoria Pickwick.
George Bassett, director of marine operations for the Nantucket Boat Basin and a retired Coast Guard captain, spent a great deal of time on the water in the winter as the captain of a U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender.
“Two times we had ice seasons,” said Bassett. “When ice forms a steam case on the structures, it will carry them away or bend them over from the force of the ice floes. In my 22 years of running the marina, the harbor has frozen over four times.”
Homeland security was an issue raised by Bassett and fishermen.
“Homeland Security could decide the wind farm is an operational power plant and close off the area to fishing,” said fisherman Bob DeCosta. DeCosta was also concerned about disturbing Horseshoe Shoal, which he said was a nursery for fish.
Almost all of the speakers had prepared written testimony, carefully timed for the three minutes each was allowed to speak.
“I heard concerns loud and clear on both sides of the issue,” LaBelle said. “As to the issue getting less emotional in a gross sense, people have become more knowledgeable.”
LaBelle said he understood the cost to heat a house in New England was tough on the average homeowner.
“We need to look at alternative energy,” he said. “The key question is: What is the best site?”
“Some of the big issues to come up (at the hearings) are ferries, public safety and maritime transportation,” he added. “It’s good to hear from those who have direct experience on the water in a face-to-face meeting. It’s a little different than reading about it in a report.”
I&M Staff Writer
13 March 2008
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