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Wind turbine rules rejected

BARNSTABLE – For the second time in the past year, county officials have rejected rules for wind-energy projects because they are not tough enough.

In November, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates initially voted down regulations for land-based wind projects, only approving them after they were made stricter.

Last week, the assembly rejected a proposed planning zone for turbines in state waters off Cape Cod. The zone would have established rules immediately prohibiting projects within 2 miles of shore. The county had until Oct. 21 to create the so-called District of Critical Planning Concern for offshore projects when a yearlong moratorium on development in the area expires.

By rejecting the offshore rules, the assembly has left the door open to development in a larger swath of state waters, Falmouth delegate Julia Taylor said.

“The whole thing was really a surprise,” she said Tuesday. “If protection is the aim, we’ve lost it.”

The Cape Cod Commission was given authority over projects in waters out to the 3-mile limit of the state’s jurisdiction as part of the 2008 Ocean Management Plan. The Cape was allocated 24 turbines in that area, which the state plan zoned for wind turbines, cable projects, and sand or gravel mining projects, based on habitat and other factors.

After a year of working on the planning district with officials from each of the Cape’s towns, the Cape Cod Commission presented the regulations a week ago to the Assembly of Delegates for its approval.

The assembly has 15 members who represent each Cape town. Each member controls a weighted vote based on a town’s population.

Barnstable’s representative Thomas Lynch, who holds the largest percentage vote, led the charge against creating the planning area, arguing that ferry routes in Nantucket Sound should be included on a map developed by the commission as part of the proposed rules.

Lynch said the Sound appeared the most open to potential development even though it already is expected to be the site of the 130 turbines Cape Wind Associates LLC wants to build in federal waters.

“I thought we should be excluded right from the start,” he said Tuesday, adding that the large open area on the map seemed to invite developers.

The Sound is already home to a large number of competing interests, including tourism, commercial fisheries and recreational boating, he said, adding that attempting to locate turbines close to shore there would likely spark the same contentious debate that has occurred surrounding Cape Wind.

But even though the map did not delineate the ferry routes, the regulations that described the planning district were clear that no projects would be allowed in the path of ferries, Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki said.

“People looked at the map and felt like there was a big opening in Nantucket Sound,” he said. “Really the opposite is true.”

Because ferry routes change, they are difficult to map and better addressed through a blanket restriction on projects in places where ferries might travel, he said.

By rejecting the proposed regulations, the assembly has made the commission’s ability to review offshore projects and defend permitting decisions more difficult, Niedzwiecki said.

Although the commission will create Development of Regional Impact or DRI standards to review projects on a case-by-case basis, that process is more prone to challenges from developers whose projects are rejected, he said.

“Right now there are no standards,” said Barnstable County Commissioner Sheila Lyons, who spoke in favor of the planning rules before the assembly’s vote. “Now it’s open game.”

Projects that go through the DRI process may be contested in what could be a long and potentially expensive process for everyone involved, she said.

Sandwich is concerned less with wind projects and more with its ability to access sand located in state waters to shore up its beaches against erosion, said Selectman James Pierce, who served on the policy committee that worked on the planning rules.

“I wasn’t particularly optimistic,” he said about the chance that the assembly would approve the document, adding that, with most of the focus on wind, controversy was inevitable.