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Cape Wind, fishermen settle lawsuit

Even as Cape Wind continues to battle opponents over the project’s effects on airspace, the company has won over another surprise convert on the water.

Cape Wind officials and representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association announced Tuesday that they settled a lawsuit challenging the project’s approval by the federal government.

“We just filed this morning papers that would settle and dismiss our lawsuit,” association president Warren Dotty said during a joint teleconference with Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.

The nonprofit association, which represents island fishermen and has about 100 members, is one of several groups that sued the federal government over Cape Wind’s approval.

The settlement includes support from Cape Wind for a trust to buy permits to lease out to young fishermen on the island, Dotty said.

Dotty and Rodgers declined to comment on how much money is included in the settlement.

“We signed a confidentiality agreement that we would not disclose any financial terms of this settlement,” Dotty said.

A fishermen’s preservation fund in Gloucester started with about $12 million, but the Vineyard fund would likely be closer to the $3 million raised for a Cape Cod permit bank, he said.

“We’ll also work together to ensure that fishermen continue to have access to Horseshoe Shoal during construction and operations,” Rodgers said about the area in Nantucket Sound where the company plans to build its 130-turbine wind farm.

Studies of European offshore wind farms have shown that they can act as artificial reefs and attract fish, Rodgers said.

Fixed-gear fishermen should be able to work in the area with little problem, but there are still concerns about fishermen who use mobile gear, Dotty said, adding that these issues will be addressed by Cape Wind and fishermen.

The seven-member board of the fishermen’s association voted 6-0 with one member absent to approve the settlement, which includes fisherman and board member Jonathan Mayhew, who was named separately as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Mayhew did not return a telephone message left Tuesday at his Chilmark home seeking comment on the announcement.

In its lawsuit filed two years ago against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in federal court the association argued that the Cape Wind project would require fishing boats to add crew members to monitor the turbines and would restrict the ability of fishermen to follow and catch schools of fish.

“The sum of these conditions will be virtually to close vital fishing grounds to traditional fishermen operating in the area,” according to the lawsuit.

The head of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, blasted the settlement.

“It’s a disappointing that the Martha’s Vineyard fishermen have dropped their lawsuit against Cape Wind in exchange for monetary compensation,” alliance president and CEO Audra Parker said. Other lawsuits brought by the alliance, the town of Barnstable, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility challenging Cape Wind’s approval remain active, Parker said.

The Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, which represents 19 commercial fishing organizations in the state but not the Vineyard fishermen’s association, continues to oppose Cape Wind, executive director Angela Sanfilippo said.

“They made a move to only think of themselves and nobody else,” she said of the island fishermen.

Fishermen from across the state use Horseshoe Shoal, Sanfilippo said, adding that her group didn’t buy the argument that the wind farm would act as an artificial reef.

Last year Cape Wind garnered support from another longtime opponent when Hy-Line Cruises partnered with the company to offer an eco-tour of the proposed wind farm.

Cape Wind must still secure final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which came under fire recently after internal emails showed officials there were concerned about political pressure surrounding the project.

The FAA most recently approved Cape Wind two years ago but in October 2011 a federal judge sent the decision that the 440-foot-tall turbines posed no hazard to air navigation back to the agency for more review.

Although the company has already sold more than 75 percent of the power from the wind farm, Cape Wind has yet to announce financial backers for the project, which is expected to cost more than $2.5 billion.