BOSTON — The Obama administration is stepping into the debate over the stalled Cape Wind project in an effort to resolve the impasse over what has long been a back-and-forth issue in Massachusetts.
Word from the federal government came after the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm suffered an apparent setback on Monday when the National Park Service ruled that the sound can be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Such listing gives the water area extra protection from development.
Following the decision by the Park Service, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would summon the key parties to a meeting next week aimed at coming up with “a common-sense agreement” on Cape Wind by March.
“After several years of review, it is now time to move the Cape Wind proposal to a final decision point,” Salazar said in a statement.
“If an agreement among the parties can’t be reached,” Salazar wrote, “I will be prepared to take the steps necessary to bring the permit process to conclusion.” He also cited the potential of clean energy development, but insisted that such progress be done “in the right way.”
According to Monday’s Park Service report, “Nantucket Sound is eligible … as a traditional cultural property and as a historic and archaeological property associated with and that has yielded and has the potential to yield important information about the Native American exploration and settlement of Cape Cod and the Islands.”
Further, the report states that “recent sampling projects in the Sound have uncovered new and highly significant additional evidence of intact, ancient, terrestrial soils” which date to Early and Middle Archaic periods.
The issue of historical designation was originally passed on to the National Park Service in November after state officials claimed the subject needed more study. Two Wampanoag tribes had been pushing for the historical designation because they said the Cape Wind project would disturb burial grounds and destroy their ancient rituals, which require an unblocked view of the sunrise.
Ironically, Monday’s report and apparent setback for Cape Wind was commissioned by the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). Followers of the years-long discourse will recall that MMS gave Cape Wind an apparent boost in early 2008 when it released a draft report indicating that the wind farm would have little environmental impact.
“Most of the impacts are minor or negligible,” Rodney Cluck of MMS said to WBUR in January 2008. “There are a few that are moderate. But [we] didn’t come up with or find any major impacts.”
The recent Cape Wind news came as Massachusetts became the first state to develop an ocean management plan. Such a plan promotes offshore renewable energy projects while also protecting sensitive marine life.
Proposed to be the country’s first large off-shore wind farm, Cape Wind includes 130 wind turbine generators arranged in a grid across 25 square miles within the federal waters of Nantucket Sound.