BARNSTABLE – Now that the complex regulatory permitting for Vineyard Wind, potentially the first industrial-sized offshore wind farm in the country, has reached the Barnstable Conservation Commission, some residents and regular summer visitors say they’re just learning that the transmission cables will land at their favorite beach and run underground along a nearby street.
“With Save Our Sound and Cape Wind, everyone was very aware of that,” said Denise Dandrea, a Centerville native and now a summer resident. “Maybe our guard was let down, from Cape Wind going away.”
Within 24 hours, Dandrea organized the Reconsider Wind Farm Cables at Covell’s Beach petition, which had 154 signatures on Wednesday. At the previous evening’s Conservation Commission public hearing, that board voted 5-1, with conditions, to approve Vineyard Wind’s notice of intent for cable-laying work in wetlands or related natural resource areas.
The signers of the petition say they are the voice of homeowners who are just learning about the plan to land the wind farm cables at Covell Beach. The signers say communication about the project has been inadequate, and they want an independent study to measure the radio frequency and electromagnetic frequency exposure from the cables and the effects on human and animal health and habitat. Protection of the town’s water supply is also important, Dandrea said.
“I’m obviously completely uninformed,” Marsha Dilk, of West Hyannisport, said at the hearing. Dilk said she and other petition signers have questions, such as why the town of Yarmouth was able to turn the company’s interest away from that part of the Cape’s southern shoreline.
Centerville Concerned Citizens, a group opposed to the installation of 5G antennas on residential roads, also is raising a red flag on the Vineyard Wind project, according to the group’s Facebook page. In a Tuesday post, citizens were urged to sign the petition and attend Conservation Commission meetings.
An unsigned, two-page letter from “A Friend of Covell’s Beach” has appeared in mailboxes in the neighborhood. The letter emphasizes both the landing of cables at Covell Beach from the planned 84-turbine wind farm south of the Islands and the onshore path of the underground cable through neighborhood streets. The town and Vineyard Wind have rushed the project forward in a behind-the-scenes way, turning over part of a public beach to a private company and putting a major transmission line “within feet of your home,” according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Times.
Vineyard Wind is on a tight schedule, with the goal of starting the onshore project by the end of the year, company officials have said in recent months. Vineyard Wind was awarded contracts last year to provide 800 megawatts of power annually to three Massachusetts electricity transmission companies. With state permits in hand, the company received a green light on May 2 from the Cape Cod Commission, paving the way for the company to file its notice of intent with the Conservation Commission.
“Vineyard Wind is pleased to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the conservation commission to make sure they had the best available information to inform its decision and to resolve any outstanding stakeholder concerns to the greatest extent possible,” according to a statement Tuesday from Erich Stephens, the company’s head of development.
Part of that state-level permitting was the consent of the state Energy Facilities Siting Board on May 9 that allows the company to land its cables at Covell Beach and snake them under streets for five miles to a new substation off Independence Way. The Covell Beach landing is a switch from Vineyard Wind’s original choice of Yarmouth, which the company had considered despite controversy over environmental concerns in Lewis Bay. By October, though, Vineyard Wind had largely abandoned the Yarmouth cable route when the company signed a $16 million host community agreement with Barnstable, which includes groundwater protections sought by the town.
In his public comments Tuesday to the Conservation Commission, Charles McLaughlin, the town’s assistant attorney, said the host community agreement includes “every option we could think of” to protect the town and the environment.
Still, the local concerns are there, if late in the game, Barnstable Town Council member Britt Beedenbender said.
“This has been front and center for the town for a good 18 months,” said Beedenbender, who represents the Covell Beach area. She challenged the idea that communication and transparency have been lacking, and said there is no “high-voltage” cable coming through the neighborhood.
“It’s the same as what you would get from a hair dryer or an electric blanket,” Beedenbender said of the magnetic field of the cables. Also, they will be buried about 30 feet at the tide line, and 4 to 6 feet in the street and encased in concrete, she said.
“Always, the town’s top priority is to make sure that its citizens are safe,” she said.
Cape Wind, which in 2010 obtained a federal lease for Nantucket Sound, intended to place 130 wind turbines on 25 square miles on Horseshoe Shoal, about 6 miles southeast of Cotuit. That offshore wind farm was long expected to be the first large-scale commercial installation in the country. But opposition eventually ensnared the company in legal appeals and political gridlock, according to Cape Wind President James Gordon.
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