Massachusetts’ Top Preservation Officer Opposes Cape Wind Project

Published April 2, 2010

A proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts will cause “unparalleled” harm to Native American and state historic sites, according to the state’s top historic preservation officer.

Far Exceeds Other Projects
Brona Simon on March 22 told a federal panel the proposed Cape Wind project far exceeds the impact of past development on historical sites in the state. “The magnitude is unparalleled in Massachusetts,” said Simon.

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation held the hearing in Barnstable, Massachusetts, to gather information about the proposed wind farm development. The Cape Wind project would develop 25 square miles of historic lands, more than six times the 3.9 square miles developed by the project with the next-largest impact to date, Simon told the panel.

The proposed wind power development would include 130 wind turbines, each reaching 440 feet above the surface of Nantucket Sound. The payoff for developing 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound would be an average of 170 megawatts of electricity, or less than 20 percent of the power produced by a typical coal or natural gas power plant.

“You can see the concern we have about the adverse effects of the project,” Simon added.

Activist Groups Split
The Cape Wind project has split environmental activist groups. On one side are those who favor wind power, even in scenic and historic Nantucket Sound, as a means to end coal and natural gas power. On the other, conservationists and wildlife preservationists oppose development in pristine regions such as Nantucket Sound—and would like to see the Sound placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition, both the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes claim a need for an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound in order to carry out what they call spiritual sun greetings. They also say the waterways seabed is sacred ancestral land that wind turbines would disturb.

The Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Indian Nation also opposes the wind farm.

A five-member advisory council on historic preservation has hosted hearings on the issue and will present U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar with a recommendation no later than April 14. Secretary Salazar will have the power to accept or reject the recommendations of the advisory council. Salazar has already indicated support for the wind power project.

National Trust Weighs In
The National Trust for Historic Preservation agrees with the Native American tribes that development would be a bad idea.

“If Cape Wind is developed at the proposed location, highly significant historic and cultural assets will be degraded, in some cases irreparably,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “While the National Trust for Historic Preservation strongly embraces the President’s efforts to promote development of alternative and renewable energy, I believe that we can achieve these goals without sacrificing America’s historic places and cultural treasures.”

Moe said alternative wind power sites could have been identified earlier in the process.

“If the reviews had occurred in a more timely and open manner, as mandated by resource-protection laws, alternative locations would have been more adequately studied. It is frustrating that so much of the current conflict could have been avoided if the tribes had been consulted years earlier, as we had been urging, instead of deferring these issues to the last minute.”

“We hope the Advisory Council will urge Secretary Salazar to avoid the harm that will occur to significant historical resources and underscore the need to pursue less harmful alternative locations for the Cape Wind project,” Moe explained.

Ironies Noted
Consumer advocates note the irony of environmental activists dismissing the concerns of conservationists and historical preservationists.

“It’s fairly striking that enviros are happy to dismiss local opposition to energy facilities when it is their energy facilities that are in play. If we were talking about, say,  a natural gas project, I am certain they’d be on the other side of the issue,” said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. 

“Federal policy should not ram uneconomic nonsense down the market’s throat,” Taylor added.

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.