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Coast Guard sued over wind farm off Nantucket

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has filed a federal lawsuit against the Coast Guard, the latest in a series of suits against federal officials and agencies by groups opposing the planned Cape Wind offshore wind farm at Horseshoe Shoal that will include 130 windmills within sight of the shore.

According to the alliance, the suit was filed because the Coast Guard has failed to respond to repeated requests for public records as required under the Freedom of Information Act. The alliance claims the Coast Guard has ignored their request for more than two years, the only federal agency to fail to respond. Their request dates back to March 29, 2011.

The FOIA request seeks communications between the Coast Guard and all parties, federal or state, responsible for authorizing the project, including consultants and elected officials, dating back to April 28, 2010, when the U.S. Interior Department approved the project.

Specifically, the alliance wants to determine if the Coast Guard, like the Federal Aviation Administration, was under political pressure to go easy on Cape Wind, referring to reported accusations that the Obama administration exerted influence on the FAA to approve the project. Internal documents obtained indicate FAA employees said they felt political pressure to rule Cape Wind wouldn’t be a hazard to pilots, although they didn’t say who made them feel pressured.

A parallel navigational safety consideration was outlined Monday in a Soundings blog posting by Peter Swanson, executive editor of PassageMaker magazine. Admiralty lawyers Todd Lochner and John Fulweiler, representing the Marine Trades Association of Cape Cod and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, have submitted a “friend of the court” brief articulating a case against the wind farm based on the navigational argument. They are asking the court to order the Coast Guard, which has already blessed the project, to take another look. “We’re looking at casualties and the real possibility of loss of life,” Lochner contends.

To date, the U.S. has no offshore wind farms because there is a decade-long pushback from many quarters against turbines being placed on our waterways, especially within sight of land. In the case of Cape Wind, which would be the first such development, the 24-square mile project off the coast of Cape Cod has unleashed a fierce fight. The groundswell to stop the wind farm was started by Cape Cod merchants and landowners. It's also opposed by almost every town government. Even the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who had a home overlooking the proposed wind farm, opposed the project as is one of Martha's Vineyard’s most famous residents, former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite. "Our natural treasures should be off limits to industrialization and Nantucket is one of those treasures," Cronkite says.

It’s notable that Secretary of the Interior Salazar has said renewable energy development must “. . . be accomplished in a manner that does not ignore, but protects our signature landscapes, natural resources, wildlife, and cultural resources.”

I couldn’t agree more. Clearly our near-shore waterways are among those “signature landscapes.” Moreover, there is little known about what effect things like pile driving, turbine noise and electromagnetic fields that will emanate from undersea cables connecting the turbines will have on fish, shellfish and other aquatic life.

If any future projects are to avoid similar opposition, it’s obvious offshore wind farms should be moved well offshore for openers. In addition, considerations like competition from cheap and hugely plentiful natural gas versus the expensive cost of wind-generated power and the need for taxpayer-supported tax credits to do it will continue to make the idea of wind farms on our waterways less than desirable.

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