Permanent destruction of our National Heritage

This week, UNESCO, the cultural agency of the United Nations, threatened to act against Britain for failing to protect "world heritage sites". Their complaints included a proposed wind energy facility that would impact Neolithic sites on Orkney.

Also in the news, a wind project planned for public lands in Nevada would site seventy-two massive turbines overlooking the Comstock Historic District and Virginia City National Historic Landmark, the largest federally designated historic district in the United States.

In Virginia, Highland New Wind Development is fighting a condition of its approval requiring an archaeological study and viewshed analysis, among other studies. Of special concern is the impact the towers will have on Camp Allegheny, a Civil War battlefield atop Allegheny Mountain less than a mile from the project site.

Finally, Windaction.org was forwarded these photos (image1, image2) of Colorado's Pawnee Buttes, a site memorialized in the movie version of James Michener's epic Centennial. The Pawnee Grasslands have been changed forever with the construction of the Cedar Creek wind energy facility, a 275 turbine project that went online last January. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, who dedicated the Cedar Creek, praised the development calling it good for Colorado's economy, its environment, and energy independence. Apparently the honorable governor never stopped to consider whether it was good for the United States' heritage. And Windaction.org questions whether Ritter ever asked for concrete numbers that show the environmental and energy benefits of the project justified the industrialization of this historic area. 

Wind proponents are shrewd at creating pre-construction simulations that blunt the appearance of the massive towers through the use of simulated camera angles and long-distance views. First Wind (formerly UPC Wind) went one step further in disguising the visual impact of its Sheffield Wind project in Vermont using views up to the hub height only. When asked what turbine height they assumed in creating their visual exhibits they stated "We commonly rely on hub height rather than the tip of the blade... as the rotor top when extended vertically directly above the hub does not represent a fixed height or "top" as it is a moving element of the turbine... and viewshed analyses are based on fixed points."

From Britain's moors to the mountains of Maine and New Zealand, from the plains of Australia to the canyons of Idaho, those who cherish the natural beauty of our open spaces need to defend our viewsheds against the march of the turbines. Otherwise, our only option is to capture the images before they're lost, as recommended by our colleagues in Idaho.

Furthermore, if view sheds surrounding historic landmarks worldwide are so easily tossed aside in the name of renewable energy, how can we ever ensure "lesser" views are preserved. But in many cases, those approving the projects have no idea the scale and magnitude of the visual impacts and apparently have little regard for the heritage of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years ago, yet is so wantonly defaced or even demolished.

SEP 9 2008
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