More than five years after being bumped from the lead role in reviewing the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit for the project.
Col. Philip Feir of the Corps signed the permit Wednesday after the agency reviewed the Department of Interior’s environmental impact statement and approval of the 130-turbine project, according to a Corps statement.
Cape Wind has been required to garner several permits for the renewable energy project. The Corps permit grants permission to build and operate wind turbines in Nantucket Sound.
The Corps permit, which was expected, marks a shift from a regulatory review of the project to legal battles that are expected to finally decide the wind farm’s fate. It also brings the project’s review full circle, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said.
“We’re on the cusp of completing the permitting process,” Rodgers said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue an air quality permit for Cape Wind in the near future. A draft of the EPA permit has already been issued.
The Corps first began to review the proposed wind farm nine years ago. In 2004, the agency released a draft environmental review of the project that found it offered environmental and economic benefits without substantial adverse impacts.
Cape Wind’s opponents argued the Corps was not the appropriate federal agency to lead the review, and in August 2005 Congress passed control to the U.S. Minerals Management Service in the Interior Department as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The Corps was relegated to a smaller role in reviewing the project.
The Minerals Management Service released a positive assessment of the project’s environmental impact in January 2009, and Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar approved the project in April 2010.
The Army Corps permit covers Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Section 404 gives the Corps jurisdiction to regulate discharge of dredged or fill material in U.S. waters and Section 10 gives the agency jurisdiction over structures and work affecting navigable U.S. waters.
The Corps’ decision on the project includes many of the same stipulations already required by the Interior Department and other agencies as well as support for the project’s environmental benefits.
“The project is viewed as a major and necessary step in advancing renewable energy development nationally, as well as addressing regional and Massachusetts renewable portfolio standards,” the Corps’ decision states.
The Corps’ approval was not unexpected and changes little, according to opponents of the project.
“It doesn’t change the growing opposition to Cape Wind because of location and cost to ratepayers,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
Ultimately, the project will be decided in court, Parker said, adding that there are 11 related lawsuits pending.
“I think it’s absolutely another phase both in terms of litigation and the fact that the cost was released just recently,” she said.
Cape Wind must still secure financing for the project as well as a buyer for the other half of its power that was not part of a deal reached with National Grid, Parker said.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has been unsuccessful in pressing NStar to buy the remaining power, Parker said. “There’s definitely been an orchestration and concerted lobbying effort to propel Cape Wind forward,” she said.
Cape Wind must also go through further review of its construction plan before it can build the wind farm, she said.
The alliance’s contention that the Corps’ approval does not represent another step forward for Cape Wind is disingenuous, Rodgers said.
The alliance has repeatedly referred to the Corps permit in its list of approvals the project must secure to proceed, he said.
“They’ll have to take it off their list,” Rodgers said.
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