The federal Minerals Management Service has received an unprecedented 40,000-plus public comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the “stalled” Cape Wind project, as it is described by one media outlet. Dozens of key groups and government agencies criticized the draft document which glossed over many of the serious threats the Cape Wind project would pose to public safety, marine wildlife and habitats, tribal and historic resources, commercial fisheries, and the local economy.
As U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a peer agency to the minerals service in the Department of Interior, judiciously noted in its comments, “We collectively have an opportunity before us to ‘do this right.’ Unfortunately, we have failed to do so.”
Following an overwhelming display of project opposition at the March public hearings, Cape Wind is now attempting to spin a batch of seriously critical comments into good news. Cape Wind’s Mark Rodgers recently claimed that the vast majority of the public comments supported the project. But a minerals service spokesperson has since confirmed that Cape Wind’s claim is merely their interpretation of the comments available for review on the minerals service’s Web site.
“If a respondent replied that he or she ‘favored the project,’ that has little use to us for analytical purposes,” wrote Drew Malcomb, the service’s chief of public affairs. “If the respondent replied that additional information or data exists on commercial fishing runs, for example, that would be of great interest to us and useful as we develop our final [environmental impact statement].”
Interested in quality, not quantity, the minerals service will assign little value to the extensive national postcard campaigns — launched by Greenpeace and others — that make up a significant portion of the pro-Cape Wind comments.
In contrast, the critical comments of the New England Fishery Management Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which scrutinize understated negative impacts to fisheries and wildlife, will carry tremendous weight in the federal review of Cape Wind. For example, the management council stated, “The council remains concerned with the potential impacts this project may have on the habitat necessary to maintain healthy fish stocks and the impact the project may have on commercial fisheries.”
The Passenger Vessel Association, the national trade group of U.S.-flagged passenger vessels, described the draft impact statement as “woefully inadequate in addressing the threat that the wind energy facility poses to the ferries and their passengers.” Concerns for public safety were echoed by the Steamship Authority, Hy-Line Cruises, Barnstable Airport Commission, and the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Massachusetts Historic Commission expressed strong concern for Cape Wind’s adverse impacts to historic resources as well as the minerals service’s failure to follow the historic consultation process. They also reminded the minerals service that the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Nantucket on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2000, and Cape Cod on its 1994 list to address the threat of incompatible development to the historic character of these areas.
The local Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes condemned an inadequate draft impact statement that failed to acknowledge religious and cultural tribal interests. The Aquinnah tribe reiterated its opposition to Cape Wind on Horseshoe Shoal and stated that the “clear, unobstructed view across Nantucket Sound is of paramount importance to the People of the First Light — the Wampanoag people . . . ” And according to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, another peer agency to the minerals service, the draft impact statement “does not appear to give any weight to the cultural concerns of the [Wampanoag] Tribe . . . ”
The minerals service will continue its review of the Cape Wind project — incorporating all of the comments it received before issuing a final environmental impact statement and ultimately, a record of decision on the project.
Meanwhile, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has called upon the minerals service to initiate a process known as community consensus management to resolve the seven-year Cape Wind controversy. In that process, local stakeholders would work to identify a community-supported alternative to Cape Wind. State Sen. Robert O’Leary and state Rep. Demetrius Atsalis have made similar requests to the minerals service.
The draft impact statement has been harshly criticized, promising offshore alternatives have emerged, and the hope of achieving a community-supported alternative now seems possible. The time has come for Cape Wind to go from a “stalled” project to a denied project.
Audra Parker is director of strategic planning for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.