The National Park Service ruled Monday that Nantucket Sound—the Massachusetts site proposed for Cape Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind farm—is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The decision deals a new hurdle for the long-disputed proposal because it requires consideration of archaeological, historic, and cultural values in the review of the project by the Minerals Management Service.
The park service made the decision after two Massachusetts Native American tribes argued that the proposed 130 offshore wind turbines would disturb submerged archaeological areas that the tribes considered sacred and interfere with spiritual rituals that require clear views across the sound.
The allegation by the tribes—the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod and the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard—was filed last fall, shortly before a final federal decision on the project was expected. The project that will cover about 24 square miles in Nantucket sound—about the size of Manhattan— has been strongly supported by Gov. Deval Patrick since its initiation in 2001.
The Massachusetts governor’s administration could soon ask the National Park Service to rescind the ruling, according to the Boston Herald. Ian Bowles, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, has been quoted as saying that the state was examining its legal options to have the designation rescinded, because it would do “profound’’ harm to future activities in the sound.
Bowle said that the decision would have implications for more than the proposed wind farm; it could affect Cape Cod fishermen, ferries, and even builders of some shorefront properties or planes flying overhead. All future activities requiring a federal permit on the sound could require entering an “open-ended and ill-defined” consultation process with the tribes, he said.
Minutes after the National Park Service’s decision, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a statement calling for a meeting next week in hopes of reaching a “common sense agreement” on the project’s potential impacts on historic and cultural resources—and ultimately, to move the Cape Wind proposal to a “final point.”
“I am hopeful that an agreement among the parties can be reached by March 1,” he said. “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 public, the parties, and the permit applicants deserve certainty and resolution.”
According to the Boston Globe, if Salazar cannot get the parties to reach a compromise, he could declare the consultation process terminated. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal agency that has been involved in the issue, will then probably hold a public hearing before submitting comments to him within 45 days.
After that, Salazar has the authority to make a final decision on what to do about the wind farm’s impact on Nantucket Sound, the newspaper said.
Sources: National Park Services, Boston Herald, Boston Globe, DOI