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2 tribes object to Cape Wind turbines; Say Nantucket Sound is cultural property

Native American rituals and beliefs have emerged as a surprising last-minute obstacle to federal approval of the nation's first offshore wind farm, threatening to significantly delay the Cape Wind project. Two Massachusetts tribes say the 130 proposed wind turbines in Nantucket Sound would disturb their spiritual sun greetings and submerged ancestral burying grounds. The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes ...are pushing for the entire sound to be listed as a traditional cultural property on the National Register of Historic Places.

Native American rituals and beliefs have emerged as a surprising last-minute obstacle to federal approval of the nation's first offshore wind farm, threatening to significantly delay the Cape Wind project.

Two Massachusetts tribes say the 130 proposed wind turbines in Nantucket Sound would disturb their spiritual sun greetings and submerged ancestral burying grounds.

The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes - with help from the main opposition group to Cape Wind - are pushing for the entire sound to be listed as a traditional cultural property on the National Register of Historic Places. A listing by itself would not necessarily stop the project, but would make permitting much more cumbersome.

And even if the tribes' proposal is ultimately rejected as many observers predict, the issue will probably hold up a final decision on Cape Wind by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose ruling had been expected shortly. The concerns of the tribes had been seen as a minor annoyance by supporters of the project, and the federal agency in charge of reviewing and granting permits for Cape Wind had maintained that federal waters are not eligible for listing. But officials... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Native American rituals and beliefs have emerged as a surprising last-minute obstacle to federal approval of the nation's first offshore wind farm, threatening to significantly delay the Cape Wind project.

Two Massachusetts tribes say the 130 proposed wind turbines in Nantucket Sound would disturb their spiritual sun greetings and submerged ancestral burying grounds.

The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes - with help from the main opposition group to Cape Wind - are pushing for the entire sound to be listed as a traditional cultural property on the National Register of Historic Places. A listing by itself would not necessarily stop the project, but would make permitting much more cumbersome.

And even if the tribes' proposal is ultimately rejected as many observers predict, the issue will probably hold up a final decision on Cape Wind by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose ruling had been expected shortly. The concerns of the tribes had been seen as a minor annoyance by supporters of the project, and the federal agency in charge of reviewing and granting permits for Cape Wind had maintained that federal waters are not eligible for listing. But officials of the federal Minerals Management Service say they became aware in June they were obligated to rule on the historic register eligibility question.

The agency is federally required to consult with Massachusetts State Historic Preservation Officer Brona Simon, who earlier this year criticized the federal government for not giving enough consideration to tribal concerns. If she says Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the historic register, the National Park Service would have to resolve the dispute. That could inject delays of more than a year into the Cape Wind timeline, according to state and federal environmental officials. Simon, who declined to comment through a spokesman, must make her decision by mid-November.

The Native American effort, which Cape Wind supporters say has already delayed the project's approval at least seven months, is being closely watched by the wind energy industry. If the 560-square mile Nantucket Sound is listed, other bodies of water across the country could be too, potentially making it more difficult for other wind farms - or other industries - to operate offshore.

"We have concerns on the precedent this might set on other wind projects,'' said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. "This is awfully late in the process for this to be coming up.''

The tribes' objections to Cape Wind are in part a variation on detractors' original main complaint: The turbines will detract from the view. Since 2004, the Wampanoag have communicated to federal officials that Nantucket Sound is critical to their spiritual well-being. Tribal representatives say their culture greets the sunrise each day, sometimes from sacred sites on the shore of Nantucket Sound, and this ritual requires unobstructed views.

"We are known as The People Of The First Light,'' said Bettina Washington, tribal historic preservation officer for the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe on Martha's Vineyard. "This is so important to us.'' She and George "Chuckie'' Green of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe also said their ancestors hunted and walked upon the seabed in Nantucket Sound when it was dry land thousands of years ago. "Our people are buried there,'' Green said.

During the last ice age, so much of the world's water was locked in glaciers, New England's coast extended more than 75 miles farther from today's shore. Archeological excavations in Nantucket Sound have found tantalizing evidence of a submerged forest six feet under the mud, but no signs of Native American camps or other signs of human life.

Supporters of the project and Cape Wind officials say the tribes' views are perplexing. Federally designated traditional properties tend to be defined areas, such as a boundary surrounding a ceremonial site - not an enormous body of water, according to a letter state Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Ian Bowles and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki sent to the MMS this summer. It urged the agency to issue a final favorable decision on the project.

In an interview, Dennis Duffy, vice president of Cape Wind Associates, noted that the Aquinnah Wampanoag may erect wind turbines themselves. "It's odd they would raise this argument while simultaneously proposing their own wind project on tribal land designated as a scenic landscape,'' he said.

Cape Wind supporters say the Wampanoag complaints have been publicized by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the main opposition group. Alliance and Wampanoag officials say they are working together because they have similar goals.

Federal regulations require that permitting agencies take into account the effect a project could have on historic properties. If the impact is considered "adverse'', alternatives or modifications to the project can be considered - but are not required, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent federal agency. An adverse finding rarely kills projects, the advisory council said.

The Minerals Management Service originally ruled in a 2008 draft environmental impact report that only three historic properties would be affected by Cape Wind - and not the Wampanoag. After a public comment period, however, the service revised its assessment in the final environmental report issued early this year, determining the project would adversely impact 28 historic property views and the "traditional religious and ceremonial practices'' of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag. Normally, when adverse findings occur, interested groups work to come up with an agreement.

But that is not expected until a resolution of the Wampanoag request to determine if Nantucket Sound is eligible to be on the historic register. Even if it is ultimately determined eligible, the property would still have to undergo a review to determine if it should be listed.

The Wampanoag say it is wrong to blame them for delays, and have complained in the past that MMS officials dismissed their concerns early on. MMS officials, meanwhile, detailed in a letter to the Wampanoag and others many times the Wampanoag have canceled or postponed meetings in the last year.

"The MMS is moving through the permitting process for an offshore renewable energy project for the first time and we are making sure that this is done in an environmentally and technically safe manner with extensive consultation with local communities,'' said agency spokesman Nicholas Pardi.


Source: http://www.boston.com/lifes...

OCT 26 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/22830-2-tribes-object-to-cape-wind-turbines-say-nantucket-sound-is-cultural-property
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