Editor’s Note: The following is a letter written by the Gosnold selectmen to Ian Bowles, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Malcolm Davidson is chairman of the selectmen. The letter has been edited in places for length.
Gov. Deval Patrick, his administration and the legislature are to be commended for the passage of the Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008 and the drafting of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. In the absence of good planning, development of our coastal resources can happen in a haphazard way, with significant unintended consequences. The thought, study, research, and outreach that went into the plan provide an excellent foundation for the consideration of balanced uses of our natural, social, and economic resources. We often forget that there is a sacred cod hanging in the state house, symbolic of the natural resources upon which this place was settled, upon which we are sustained today, and upon which our future depends.
We recognize that the Ocean Management Plan does not propose to build wind turbines in our town, but rather proposes two possible locations in state waters where siting an offshore wind project would not be incompatible with the Ocean Sanctuaries Act. Any proposed project would be subject to a thorough permitting process.
We have a responsibility to address climate change.
Our town is comprised of a group of islands. We will be severely affected by sea level rise, and more frequent and more intense storms, which are the predicted impacts of global climate change. We have the potential to be threatened by drought, as we have no water supply beyond our small aquifers. We understand that, even though we are the smallest community in the commonwealth, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution to reducing carbon emissions. We understand the connection between our small actions and much larger consequences.
One of our citizens expressed it very well when she wrote to us: “I am very much in favor of using renewable natural resources to generate electricity, especially wind, water, and solar wherever it is not only affordable, but also environmentally sound. Properly placed wind turbines can be one component of the power generation grid, but . . .”
Our challenge is in addressing the “but.”
Wind power is not a new idea. The first windmill on Cape Cod was built in Barnstable in 1687, and the Cape and Islands were dotted with them, grinding grain and pumping water. In 1977, the town participated in an early experiment into modern wind turbine technology with the installation of a 200 kilowatt unit on the top of the hill on Cuttyhunk. The turbine had the capacity of supplying a significant portion of the island’s electric need, but the technology was ahead of its time, was unreliable, and it ceased operation after only a short time. It stood as a grim reminder of the potential for failure of emerging technology for 13 years, until it was finally taken down in 1990. Parts of the turbine and its control building still lie in a heap at the top of the hill.
Nevertheless, the people of the town of Gosnold tend to take the long view. One of our citizens posed the question: “In 100 years will our descendents think that these wind farms were a good idea?” and it is indeed a most important question. We are at a crossroads. It is difficult to accept such a facility in our community. But not accepting this burden means not taking responsibility for our lifestyle, which includes the use of electricity. We recognize that now and into the future energy must be generated without greenhouse gas emissions. But there are risks in demonstrating new technologies, and are the risks worth it?
Offshore wind seems to many of our residents a very expensive experiment. Being mariners, and living on the water, they know firsthand how harsh and corrosive the marine environment is. They have pointed out to us that saltwater and electricity are not a good combination. We want to do our part to advance technology and be part of the climate change solution, but we do not want to be part of another failed experiment, and live for years with the consequences.
The character of our town would be forever changed by a commercial wind project in our viewshed. We would no longer have the deeply visceral and highly spiritual experience of a sunset over the water without evidence of human impact. On the island we feel more closely connected with nature, and away from human things. The sight and sound of manmade objects destroys that experience. The view of the unobstructed sunset is to us, in the words of the popular television commercial, priceless. The hill on Cuttyhunk is 140 feet tall. Industrial scale wind turbines are typically 450 feet tall. With as many as 66 proposed for town waters, the visual impact will be significant. Visitors come to Cuttyhunk for the unspoiled beauty and great fishing, and that tourism is an important source of revenue to townspeople.
Approximately one third of town revenue comes from visiting boaters. We are concerned that an industrial wind farm would negatively affect tourism, which would have a direct impact on the town’s budget.
The full range of environmental, economic, social and cultural impact areas must be thoroughly studied as part of the review process, including:
• Fisheries impacts, such as the potential effects of piles, foundations, and electromagnetic fields on fish populations and species. The towers could bring more fish to the area, but any change to the habitat has the potential to dramatically change the fishery, which is critical to our history, culture, lifestyle, and livelihood. What about impact to the ocean currents?
• Construction phase impacts, such as how pile driving might impact our aquifer.
• Light and shadow impacts; we are concerned about flicker, especially as the sun is setting, and particularly about the lighting of the towers at night. We are blessed with a fabulous dark sky, and an amazing view of the Milky Way, and bright flashing lights would be a significant distraction.
• Air flow over the island; the ocean breezes are an important part of the Cuttyhunk experience, and how a wind turbine array will impact them must be thoroughly understood.
At our community meeting on Oct. 30, Dr. Seymour DiMare observed that as the cod was sacred to Massachusetts, the striped bass was sacred to Cuttyhunk. He noted that it is the bass that tops the church steeple and adorns many a building. The bass fishing clubs on Cuttyhunk and the other islands supported the town for many years, and for the striped bass the Sow and Pigs Reef was a temple, a sanctuary, a sacred place. Charlie Tilton said that he had been fishing on the reef for 70 years, and that it was extraordinarily productive.
Fishing for striped bass and bluefish in this area is a major part of the local economy. Hired guides and boats, boarding houses and rentals, meals and services to visiting fishermen, our moorings and marina, boat fueling and repair, employ a significant portion of the population. To protect Sow and Pigs we ask that turbines be prohibited from the reef itself, and a quarter mile beyond. [The section of the plan titled] Fisheries Resources seems to show a low level of resources in and around Sow and Pigs Reef. Generations of Cuttyhunk fishermen would challenge that conclusion and recommend that the designation be amended.
We have lived with the wreckage of a failed wind project, and do not want the impacts of another. Any proposed project should be required to have sufficient funds in escrow to pay for the maintenance, dismantling and removal of the turbines and associated infrastructure at the end of their useful life, or within one year of cessation of use.
We want to be actively involved in project review and approval.
The town should have an active role in any project review and be a party to any agreements for project siting, approval and operation.
Certain impacts can be addressed, such as by avoiding Sow and Pigs Reef and requiring an escrow account for decommissioning. But for the very real impacts that cannot be ameliorated, such as the visual impacts, there should be tangible economic compensation beyond mitigation. With a very small tax base, it is very difficult for the town to maintain municipal services. An additional source of revenue will help us to maintain the natural open space and unspoiled character of the town. We would like to see a minimum of 50 per cent of project revenue paid to the state by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) be distributed directly to the town. If a commercial wind project has to be somewhere in state waters, the town of Gosnold is willing to do its part.
Although we are part of the County of Dukes County, our town is very different from the towns on the Vineyard. Our islands are mostly in their natural state, thanks to the stewardship of some far-sighted families. We have no industry, very little commercial activity, and as a “dry” town, not a single bar. Fishing, farming and boating remain our primary occupations, as they have for hundreds of years. We have fortunately escaped much of the development and other pressures that Vineyard towns face. We were once a part of the town of Chilmark, but have minded our own business since the town was separately incorporated in 1864. While we don’t want to seem unneighborly, we would like to continue to manage our own affairs. For example, we do not have representation on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and do not want any commission making decisions for us.
We do not find it reassuring that the plan gives the regional planning agency a role in project siting. We want our town to have an active role in any project approval, including veto power.
If our needs are met, we are willing to have a commercial wind project sited in our town waters.