One of the quintessential Vineyard vistas is the expanse of ocean visible from the Gay Head Cliffs, classified by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark, with its lighthouse listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Another branch of the federal government, the U.S. Department of the Interior, classifies the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard as a six out of seven — “good to excellent” — on its wind resource map.
Nothing better illustrates the conflicting priorities and values facing this Island community as it wrestles with the implications of wind turbine development in the Vineyard’s near-shore waters.
On the one hand, fossil fuel use is changing the climate in dangerous ways. Developing renewable energy technologies like wind power will help, but only if it can be scaled up significantly. On the other hand, Martha’s Vineyard’s environmental gains have been hard-fought, and its scenic and cultural values are not trivial concerns.
Both positions are valid. The challenge right now, however, is for Island residents not to pick sides. Dividing the community over which set of values should prevail will only diminish the Island’s already small political voice.
Instead, the immediate fight must be directed to improving the draft management plan’s siting standards for special, sensitive and unique marine habitats (SSUs), and defending our Martha’s Vineyard Commission decisions from being overruled by the state board charged with fast-tracking offshore development.
The community conversation about values must take place, and it must be done in a thoughtful and respectful way. But the first step is to protect the Vineyard’s natural assets and ensure that the powers of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to review development projects in Island waters are not diminished.
The writer is the executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society.