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Judge denies Narragansett tribe’s bid to suspend construction of cable for wind farm

PROVIDENCE – A federal court judge has denied a request from the Narragansett Indian Tribe to suspend construction on Block Island for a transmission cable that is being installed as part of the first offshore wind farm in the nation.

At a hearing on Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. ruled against the tribe in its motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

The tribe had filed a complaint against National Grid and other parties alleging that it had not been properly notified after artifacts were found while a trench was being dug for the cable and that those artifacts were improperly removed.

National Grid argued that it followed the terms of a memorandum of agreement that had been signed with the tribe.

“I don’t think irreparable harm has been shown,” McConnell said. “In fact, the parties have acted highly appropriately.”

John Brown, historic preservation officer for the tribe, said after the hearing that the tribe would appeal the decision and would also seek monetary damages from National Grid for damage to historic sites on Block Island.

National Grid is building portions of the transmission system for the five-turbine wind farm that Deepwater Wind, a Providence-based developer, is installing off Block Island. The system will run from the wind farm to a substation on Block Island and then on to the mainland power grid.

On April 5, National Grid notified the tribe that construction crews had inadvertently dug up cultural artifacts while making excavations for the cable. Michael De Luca, an attorney for the tribe, claimed that the disturbances happened before that day and that the artifacts involved included vessels and tools.

“By the time notification had been given … the artifacts had already been removed,” he said. “The site had been irrevocably altered.”

Gerald Petros, a lawyer for National Grid, countered that his client had notified the tribe on the day of discovery and that the artifacts that were found were handled appropriately. He described the artifacts as shell fragments.

“We’re not talking about arrows or shovels or rakes or implements or utensils,” he said.

He told the judge that even a short delay could set back the project by as much as a year or two because of the tight construction schedule.

“This is an enormously complicated construction project,” Petros said.