Opponents to Wind Farm Mount Suit to Block Tower in Nantucket Sound
By MANDY LOCKE
Offshore wind farm opponents took their case to federal court Friday - urging the U.S. district court to overturn the United States Army Corps of Engineers's approval of a 197-foot monitoring tower to be erected by private energy developer Cape Wind Associates in the shallows of Nantucket Sound.
The Cape-based Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound - operating an aggressive campaign to block private wind energy projects in the waters surrounding the Cape and Islands - joined Sandwich commercial fisherman Ronald Bojeson, Hyannis Marina operator Wayne Kurker and Chatham-based Monomoy Trap Company owners Shareen Davis and Ernest Eldredge in a lawsuit aimed to halt private development in the public waters of Nantucket Sound.
"This data rig is a Trojan horse," said Isaac Rosen, executive director of the alliance. "If the data gathering rig is allowed to be built, the private developer will no doubt claim the precedent has been set for the entire project."
The suit targets the U.S. Army, the secretary of the Army, the Army Corps and the Army Corps chief of engineers and district engineer for the New England district - claiming the Army Corps failed to address ownership of the federal waters that will host the data tower. Opponents also cite what they call procedural errors by the Army Corps in the extensive permitting process.
While the suit addresses a single permit for a single tower in one body of water, the challenge questions any and all rights of private enterprise in any segment of public waters in the United States. The $2 million monitoring station - designed to log wind speed and direction, ocean currents, wave height and water salinity - is seen by critics as the first step toward a proliferation of loosely regulated wind farm projects.
"Ostensibly proposed as a research instrument to gather data on the effects of wind factory development on the environment, the tower is quite literally a staging area to facilitate a massive land grab of public waters by a private for-profit company," alliance officials said in a statement released Friday.
Cape Wind - which is not named in the suit - said this challenge will not block the erection of the data tower this fall, nor will it slow review of the 170-turbine wind farm proposal for the 28 square miles known as Horseshoe Shoal.
"We're moving full-steam ahead. The Army Corps of Engineers did a very thorough job of reviewing the project. We'd be surprised if the court overturned [the permit]," Cape Wind communications director Mark Rodgers said.
"Anyone can file any kind of lawsuit. Inevitably this will be decided in the court of law on its merits," he added.
Mr. Rodgers said Cape Wind is certainly willing to compensate the federal government - through a long-term lease - for use of Horseshoe Shoal. According to Mr. Rodgers, rent has been levied by the U.S. government for mineral excavation companies.
"In that instance, the company used an irreplaceable, exhaustible resource," he said, noting that wind is both replaceable and inexhaustible.
Questions of ownership of public waters have simmered just below the surface in the last several months. A handful of political figures called for a halt to all permits until the government drafts a long-range management plan for wind farm development on the outer continental shelf. U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and U.S. Sen. John Warner of Virginia staged rather public protests to continued alternative energy development in America's waters earlier this summer.
While political debates continue, more wind energy developers are staking claims in the waters off the southern coast of Massachusetts. Thus far, New York-based Winergy LLC filed an application with the Army Corps to set 231 turbines almost five miles off the southeastern tip of Nantucket. At least two other private energy companies are reportedly eying the commonwealth's waters as potential wind farm sites.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound - a coalition representing citizens, businesses, governmental bodies and civic groups who oppose private development in the sound - has been a thorn in Cape Wind's side since the energy company filed the proposal with the Army Corps over a year ago.
The alliance charges Cape Wind's project will destroy a sensitive ecosystem, erect 170 navigational hazards, pollute the sound with lights and foghorns and cause electric rates to increase. Cape Wind officials dispute each of these claims.