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Violating a trust

Often, the visual impact of 130 wind turbines as tall as the Statue of Liberty in the middle of Nantucket Sound is presented as a clash of aesthetic sensitivity vs. alternative energy reality. But the National Trust for Historic Preservation has reminded the U.S. Minerals Management Service that real laws and mandates exist, and it says MMS is not going by the book in its evaluation of the Cape Wind project.

In its comments on the MMS draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), the Trust says that the determination of “adverse impact” on historic resources is suspect, plans for the mandated mitigation of impact are lacking, and consideration of alternatives is extremely limited.

What’s particularly puzzling is the difference between the MMS list of adversely affected historic sites and the list from the Corps of Engineers, which managed the Cape Wind application before the MMS became involved.

The Corps’ report listed 16 historic properties that would be adversely affected by the wind farm: Nobska Point Light Station, Cotuit Historic District, Col. Charles Codman Estate, Wianno Historic District, Hyannis Port Historic District, Montgomery Point Lighthouse, West Chop Light Station, East Chop Light Station, Dr. Harrison A. Tucker Cottage, Edgartown Village Historic District, Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse, Nantucket Great Point Light and the Nantucket National Historic Landmark District, the Kennedy Compound, the Wianno Club and Poge Lighthouse.

In contrast, the MMS lists only the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, the Wianno Club in Osterville and the Poge Light on Chappaquiddick. Particularly distressing to the National Trust is the failure to list the Nantucket historic district.

These differences between the MMS and the Corps’ views are “extremely troubling” and require explanation, the Trust says.

Furthermore, federal law requires “consultation with interested parties to resolve effects on historic resources,” but little consultation has taken place, the National Trust observes. The MMS claim that it has “worked with the National Trust” on historic analyses is not true, the Trust adds.

More basically, the Trust finds it “improbable” that there is only one feasible wind project location “from Maine to Rhode Island.” Smaller groups of wind towers in several sites would mitigate the visual impacts on historic sites, the Trust points out, but the MMS has not tinkered with the Cape Wind proposal.

Even in the rush for energy solutions, these are serious matters. The settings and vistas of the sites that exemplify the nation’s history and heritage are as important as the structures. Very few of such sites are unaltered, of course – in Quincy, for example, it’s hard to imagine the birthplace of John Quincy Adams, hemmed in by streets and traffic, as a country farmhouse. Yet one can step back in time at Peacefield, his later home on spacious grounds not far away.

Nobody, the National Trust included, expects that the views at the Kennedy Compound or the Nantucket historic downtown will remain forever unaltered. But Congress has decreed that all efforts must be made to preserve the integrity of historic sites, and the MMS must comply.

Cape Cod Times editorial

7 July 2008