The only federal agency with a legal responsibility to make sure that federal projects consider local historic preservation needs has expressed concerns about Naval Station Newport’s plans to erect as many as 12 wind turbines on Aquidneck Island.
The project “is unprecedented to our knowledge in that these land-based turbines are proposed for coastal locations in which … visual effects would be extensive and populous,” reads the letter sent this week from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
The agency was established in 1966 as part of the National Historic Preservation Act to make sure all federal agencies act as responsible stewards of the nation’s resources when their actions affect historic properties.
Caroline D. Hall, assistant director of the ACHP’s Office of Federal Agency Programs, sent the letter dated Wednesday, Nov. 7, to Capt. Doug Mikatarian, commanding officer of Naval Station Newport.
Possible turbine sites include Katy Field, Bishop Rock, Pritchard Field South, Pritchard Field North and Coddington Point in Newport, as well as the site of the former Navy Lodge in Middletown and several Portsmouth locations, according to the state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, which has objected to the plan.
“In view of the challenges of high-visibility turbines in this sensitive location, it is incumbent on the Navy to consider alternatives to land wind turbines that might achieve the goal of reducing energy consumption,” Hall wrote Mikatarian.
Hall recommends the Navy instead consider “energy conservation programs, facility improvements to achieve energy efficiency, and aggregating bargaining power with other users to achieve better energy rates.”
Mikatarian will add the letter to the environmental assessment process that continues to examine the feasibility of the project, said Lisa Rama, spokeswoman for Naval Station Newport.
“The environmental assessment process is taking a lot longer that we thought it would,” Rama said. “We’re in new territory here. Other bases are turning to wind as an energy source, but not with a project of this size and scope.”
Capt. Joseph P. Voboril, the former commanding officer at Naval Station Newport, oversaw the environmental assessment process until he retired at the end of 2011. That October, he said the Navy would like to complete the environmental assessment by February 2012, if possible, since more than 18 months already had been spent on the assessment. Now more that total. Part of the environmental assessment, by law, is to evaluate whether the proposed wind turbines would have an adverse effect on historic properties on the island and the view of historic landscapes.
Hall notes in her letter that there are no existing largescale, land-based wind energy projects on the East Coast, although they exist in the western states. An Atlantic Wind Power Facility project, an inland array of 150 turbines, is under consultation in North Carolina, she wrote.
Offshore wind energy also is in the early stages. The Cape Wind project off Cape Cod has been permitted but is being challenged in the courts, Hall wrote. Also, the Department of Defense has entered into an agreement to establish an “Atlantic Wind Energy Initiative on the Outer Continental Shelf.”
The Navy’s proposed wind turbine project on Aquidneck Island “may not achieve the cost-effectiveness that accompanies larger-scale wind farms, which leads to a concern about the reasonably foreseeable need to expand the project in order to obtain efficiencies of scale,” Hall wrote.
The “Area of Potential Effect” on Aquidneck Island encompasses multiple historic properties and districts, Hall wrote. Besides the visual effect on historic properties, spinning turbines could cause “sunlight glints, shadow-flicker effects and audible effects,” she wrote. In addition, the turbine project may affect properties of “religious and cultural significance” to the Narragansett Tribe, she wrote. Native American artifacts have been found on the island near the sites to the north.
“It is important that Naval Station Newport clarify these issues more fully in future consultations on the project,” Hall wrote at the end of her letter. The state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission determined in December 2011 the Navy wind turbines would have an adverse effect on the island’s historic properties, as well as on the view of historic landscapes.
They are proposed for locations close to a large number of properties either listed on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible to be listed, the commission said. Some of the nearby properties and districts are designated as National Historic Landmarks.
Those turbines could affect the view from the Naval War College, the Point section of Newport, the Rose Island Lighthouse, Fort Adams State Park, the Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery, the commission ruled.
“Acceptance of adverse visual effects from Navy turbines not only would diminish the integrity of significant historic properties, but could also affect Newport’s attractiveness as a destination for cultural tourism,” the commission wrote in its findings.