Opponents of the proposal to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound have sued the U.S. Coast Guard in federal court, saying the agency failed to respond to a request for public records as required by law.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., making it the latest legal action against federal officials and agencies connected to the approval of Cape Wind.
“We have filed (Freedom of Information Act) requests with numerous federal agencies that are defendants in many of the lawsuits that are being filed,” alliance president Audra Parker said. “The Coast Guard is the only federal agency that hasn’t provided documents. This is well over two years ago.”
In the complaint, lawyers for the alliance lay out a timeline dating back to March 29, 2011, when the organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Coast Guard. It was seeking communications between the agency and Cape Wind; any other state or federal agency responsible for authorizing the project; consultants; Hy-Line Cruises officials; state Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich; former state Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable; and U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass. The request asks for documents dating back to April 28, 2010, when the U.S. Interior Department approved the project.
According to the timeline, the Coast Guard failed to provide the documents despite repeated requests and deadline extensions as well as an appeal to the Department of Homeland Security of what the alliance believed to be a de facto denial.
After more than two years of wrangling, the Coast Guard sent an email to the alliance June 18 asking whether the group was still interested in receiving the records, according to the complaint.
“The email requested that the alliance advise whether it was ‘still desirous of the information requested in the subject FOIA. If so I (a Coast Guard official) will try and resurrect the request and search for the information,'” according to the complaint.
The alliance gave the Coast Guard another week to respond and then initiated the lawsuit.
The alliance wants to determine if the Coast Guard, like the Federal Aviation Administration, was under political pressure to go easy on Cape Wind, Parker said, referring to accusations last year by GOP lawmakers and Cape Wind’s opponents that President Barack Obama’s administration exerted influence on the FAA to approve the project.
For example, a document in the administrative record separate from the documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act request showed the White House seeking the best point of contact in the Coast Guard on the Cape Wind project, she said.
The Coast Guard is congressionally mandated to provide navigational safety, specifically in Nantucket Sound, Parker said.
“The burden should be on the developer, not on the mariners,” she said.
Representatives with the Coast Guard did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind, called the alliance’s most recent lawsuit a “desperate publicity stunt.”
“The opposition group is still referring to a decadelong review as ‘rushed,'” Rodgers wrote in an email to the Times. “They have no credibility.”
Cape Wind has sold 77 percent of the power from the project, which is expected to include 130 turbines located on Horseshoe Shoal in the Sound.
The company has received the necessary permits and a lease and has made progress recently toward securing debt and equity for the $2.6 billion project.
Supporters of the project, which was first proposed in 2001, say it will help combat climate change and provide clean energy jobs.
Opponents argue that the project is too expensive and will harm the environment, tourism and safety in and around the Sound.
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