Cape Wind faces more legal headwinds after a U.S. appeals court shot down the Federal Aviation Administration’s view that the offshore power project’s tall wind turbines posed “no hazard” to passing planes.
The court yesterday remanded the matter to the FAA after finding the aviation agency “misread” its own regulations when studying Cape Wind’s potential safety risks – a key factor in the federal government’s overall lease approval for the project.
“The FAA catapulted over the real issues and the analytical work required by its handbook,” the court said in its 14-page opinion.
Cape Wind opponents cheered the ruling while the Boston-based developer vowed to plow on with its $2.5 billion plan for 130 turbines over a 25-square-mile swath of Nantucket Sound.
“It’s a key victory and an important step toward Cape Wind’s ultimate failure,” said Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “With this decision, Cape Wind can’t begin construction or move forward.”
The opposition group and town of Barnstable appealed the FAA decision last year, arguing that Cape Wind’s 440-foot-tall, rotating steel turbines would be hazardous to pilots, especially in foggy weather.
“It would be a large area of very tall structures directly between the two areas we fly to and from, and we felt the FAA didn’t give it enough consideration in their original ruling,” said Daniel Santos, chairman of the Barnstable Municipal Airport Commission.
Cape Wind said it does not expect the court ruling to further delay the decade-old project, which has been beset by legal and financial woes.
“The FAA has reviewed Cape Wind for eight years and repeatedly determined that Cape Wind did not pose a hazard to air navigation,” said spokesman Mark Rodgers. “The essence of (the) court ruling is that the FAA needs to better explain its ‘Determination of No Hazard’ ruling.”
An FAA-commissioned study found that 425 planes guided by visual flight rules passed near the Cape Wind project zone in a 90-day period.
“Once the turbines are built, many of these flights may be forced to be rerouted or to proceed in violation of the FAA’s own regulation … which requires a 500-foot distance between an aircraft and any structure,” the court said.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the agency will review the court’s decision and determine if Cape Wind must re-file its plans.
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