The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head says its unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound “is essential to their proper conduct of religious ceremonies and practices,” but soon will be marred by 130 wind turbines, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
The tribe sued the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the Secretary of the Interior to try to stop the giant wind farm from being built on Horseshoe Shoal off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, where the tribe has its reservation.
“The Tribe depends on Nantucket Sound for food, jobs, spiritual ceremonies, and cultural continuity, and the Sound is essential to the Tribe’s religious ceremonies and traditional religious practices,” the Wampanoag say in their federal complaint.
The much ballyhooed wind farm will occupy 46 square miles on or near Horseshoe Shoal, 24 miles from the Wampanoags’ reservation.
The tribe claims the project will also disturb the seabed, on which it relies for food, and archaeological sites from the more than 13,000 years during which the Wampanoag have lived on the Sound – which the tribe says used to be a dry-land plain.
The (nonparty) Cape Wind Associates applied for a permit to build the offshore wind farm back in 2001, and in the years that followed, Cape Wind and BOEMRE were tasked with drafting environmental impact statements.
In 2006, the Wampanoag submitted their first written concerns that the project could interrupt its religious and cultural practices and damage the aquatic ecosystem.
Tribal members routinely showed up at public meetings to express concerns that BOEMRE’s environmental impact statements diminished the tribe’s historical and cultural relationship to the view of the Sound.
At one such meeting in 2008, “the Tribe described the sacred nature of these sites and their critical role in the conduct of the Tribe’s most sacred religious ceremonies and practices, and explained that Horseshoe Shoal had been a village and burial site during the last ice age and, thus, was of great importance to the Tribe.”
But in BOEMRE’s final statement in 2009, it found that the cultural impact on the tribe would be minimal.
The Wampanoags also unsuccessfully petitioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and nonparty Massachusetts Historical Commission, which declined to register Horseshoe Shoal as an historic site.
BOEMRE issued a Record of Decision on April 28 this year authorizing Cape Wind Associates to install and operate the 130 turbine generators.
The Wampanoag, whose name means “People of the First Light,” say “a clear unobstructed view of the rising sun across Nantucket Sound is essential to the proper conduct of their religious ceremonies and practices, up to the present day.”
The tribe’s view is part of their relationship to Moshop, a tribal culture hero who created the Sound and its islands.
The Wampanoag seek an injunction reversing authorization of the project.
They are represented by Kelly Davis.
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