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Cape Wind starts construction survey in Nantucket Sound

BREWSTER – It’s been more than a decade since the Cape Wind was a glimmer in the mind of Cape Wind President Jim Gordon.

But after a long and lengthy trip through a still-disputed regulatory process work has commenced out on Horseshoe Shoals. The 130 410-foot-high turbines won’t be piercing the sky over Nantucket Sound this year but survey ships are out on the water gathering preliminary data prior to construction that could start early next year.

“This is a four-stage geotechnical survey of Horseshoe Shoals and it really builds and expands on work done years earlier,” Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rogers explained. “The earlier work was related to permitting. This is related to what we need to do as part of the final project design.”

The work is being done by Fugro, a Dutch company that does surveying for oil and gas companies, mining operations, construction projects and most of the off-shore wind turbines built in Europe in recent years. They operate in 60 countries and the U.S. wing is based in Norfolk Virginia.

For this survey they’ll employ about 50 people.

“We’re looking to understand about the sediment characteristics are at different depths where we’ll be driving in our foundation piles,” Rogers said.

The piles will have a diameter of 15-feet. They’re hollow inside, with the rims about two to three inches thick.

“They’ll be driven into the sediment to a depth of 80-feet,” Rogers explained. “They’ll fill with sediment as they’re driven in. This will help inform the design of these foundations.”

In addition to Fugro, Fathom Research of New Bedford will assist in the sediment analysis. The ESS group out of Waltham will monitor marine mammals and make sure they are not disturbed by the work.

“We hope to begin construction next year. We have begun the project financing stage, we do need to do that,” Rogers conceded.

There are still several court cases and appeals.

“Survey work is standard and does not change the fact that Cape Wind developers have no authority to begin construction,” declared Audra Parker, President of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “Cape Wind continues to face serious and growing problems, with investigations being launched into the project’s political maneuvering, four federal lawsuits pending and a recent federal court decision to revoke Cape Wind’s aviation safety permit.”

On June 27, Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida, who just drafted the “No More Solyndra’s Act,” called for an investigation of the Cape Wind project. Specifically he’s concerned recently released e-mails suggest the Obama administration pressured the Federal Aviation Authority into reporting that the project did not pose and aviation hazard. A Federal appeals court over-turned that ruling and the FAA is re-reviewing the project.

“Congressman Stearns, Senator [Scott] Brown and Congressman [Tim] Murphy (of Pennsylvania) have all called for a federal probe into the political pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration that led it to put public safety at risk with this project,” Parker said in a statement. “Ratepayers and businesses across Massachusetts should be relieved to know that this survey work will not lead to anything, as Cape Wind will never be built.”

Rogers would disagree with that. Phase one of the survey is under way. Phase two will involve a much larger 100-foot vessel and the last two phases will incorporate a barge.

“In some places the shoals break the water line at low tide,” Rogers noted. “We need a minimum of 12-feet at low tide (to get the construction barge in). The turbine locations range from 12-feet to up to 45 feet. We already know where the turbines are going.”

A lawsuit by the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association that sought to stop the project was settled during the last week of June. The fishermen will retain access to the Cape Wind site and Cape Wind will help set up a “permit bank” for the fishermen.