U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday he will decide by the end of April whether to approve Cape Wind, the proposed wind farm off Cape Cod that has sparked a contentious, nine-year fight.
“To have it continuing to face a future of uncertainty is bad for everybody that is involved," Salazar said at a news conference after meetings with key players in Washington. "We are moving it forward with clarity.”
In a Jan. 4 statement, Salazar said: "I am hopeful that an agreement among the parties can be reached by Mar. 1. If an agreement among the parties can’t be reached, I will be prepared to take the steps necessary to bring the permit process to conclusion."
The Cape Wind plan calls for the building of 130 turbines, each more than 400 feet tall, in Nantucket Sound. The project would be located several miles from the Cape Cod shore, across a 25-square-mile swath of federal waters.
One of the project's critics, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, on Wednesday presented Salazar with a proposed compromise, which would shift Cape Wind to an alternate "and far less destructive" site to the south of Tuckernuck Island.
"We urge Sec. Salazar to lead the process toward a solution that can receive the support of all parties involved," the group said in a statement. "This compromise solution could end years of conflict and make the difference between issuing a permit and actually building a project that will generate clean energy."
While Salazar's deadline signaled progress, not all parties emerged from Washington satisfied.
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the council chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, took issue with being shut out of a third meeting with Salazar. Andrews-Maltais told the Boston Globe that such an omission was "insulting" and "disrespectful".
Salazar's office said the tribe was not included because it will not have a legally binding say in the final decision.
The tribe's main complaint received a perceived boost recently when the National Park Service decided that Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes have maintained that the designation, which would come with new regulations for activity on the sound, is needed to preserve sacred burial grounds and ancient rituals, which require an unblocked view of the sunrise.
Cape Wind supporter George Bachrach, of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, says the project will provide cheaper energy, reduce pollution and create "green" jobs.
"What we are seeing now is the last gasp of a pathetic attempt by opponents whose only interest truly is nimbyism," Bachrach said. "To enlist Indian tribes to front for them on an issue that has no merit."
Other supporters, including Cape Wind President Jim Gordon, say public opinion is on their side. Recent polls have shown 86 percent of state residents and 75 percent of Cape Cod and islands residents support the plan, Gordon said.
On Wednesday, Salazar said he hoped that the tribes, the project developers and other interested parties can forge a compromise before he makes a final decision.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This program aired on January 13, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.