More than 40,000 individuals and organizations have submitted comments on an environmental review of the wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound, according to federal officials.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rodney Cluck, Cape Wind project manager for the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind Associates’ plan to build 130 wind turbines in the sound.
No other project reviewed by the agency during Cluck’s 11 years with MMS has received as much attention, he said. The final number of public comments submitted on the agency’s Cape Wind draft environmental report has yet to be tallied. A 2005 report on the project issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received one-tenth the number of comments the MMS document has so far.
Despite the difference in magnitude, there were similar criticisms leveled against the MMS and Army Corps of Engineers documents.
The MMS report took hits for conclusions drawn from studies of other projects, analysis of the impact of construction noise and alternatives considered in the document. The report, which was released in January, found little environmental impact across 117 areas under consideration.
Some federal agencies requested more information on the project and called parts of the report inadequate.
“At the very least, the (report) should explain why recommended studies and analyses were not conducted and the ramifications of not having that information,” Michael Bartlett, supervisor for the New England Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote about bird and fisheries research in a letter sent to MMS on Monday.
While Bartlett praised MMS officials for attempts to analyze alternatives to Cape Wind’s proposal and an economic comparison of different sites and sizes for the project, he questioned conclusions in the report about its environmental impact.
The report’s information on migratory birds and fishery habitats linked to the 25-square miles of Horseshoe Shoal where the project would be located is inadequate, Bartlett wrote. “Once again, we feel that it would be more appropriate for the (report) to conclude that there is insufficient information to make an informed impact analysis.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator Robert Varney called for additional research and consideration of alternatives to Cape Wind such as a floating wind farm proposed further offshore by a Dutch company.
“We strongly encourage MMS to work more closely with EPA and other agencies during the development of the (final report),” Varney wrote in a letter to MMS officials.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the project’s most vocal opponent, enlisted 40 experts to review the report and produced a 3,000-page critique, the organization’s president, Glenn Wattley, said yesterday.
“Part of the dilemma here is after three years the MMS hasn’t produced a higher quality document,” Wattley said, comparing the Army Corps review and the MMS report.
MMS took over the review of Cape Wind from the Army Corps as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Studies of how birds will be affected were also inadequate, Wattley said.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers countered the project’s potential impact on the avian world is well documented.
“It’s important to point out that Cape Wind has undergone, already, more avian studies than any wind farm on the planet prior to construction,” Rodgers said. “For some, there’s never enough data.”
Despite the criticisms of the MMS report, the vast majority of comments submitted will be in favor of the project, Rodgers predicted.
In their comments, national and local environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation and Clean Power Now praised Cape Wind and the MMS draft report.
“To meet the challenge of reducing fossil fuel emissions and the associated threats to public health, our oceans, other natural resources and the global climate, we must embrace clean renewable energy generation,” a group of ten environmental organizations wrote in a letter on the project. “Cape Wind is one of the nation’s most promising clean energy projects.”
Cape Wind supporters are confident the wind farm will get the permits needed for construction to begin, executive director for Clean Power Now, Barbara Hill, said yesterday.
By Patrick Cassidy
23 April 2008
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