Acting Administrator Michael Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Mr. Huerta:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound (Alliance) to express my concerns based on information that I have obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that we have made with respect to the Cape Wind project. The FAA has consistently ignored the warnings of the local aviation community, including airplane pilots, regional airports, and airline owners that the proposed Cape Wind project would pose unacceptable risks to the safety of local pilots and passengers. The documents make clear that FAA has made decisions based on political factors rather than the recommendations of the pilots, who use this airspace every day, thereby, failing to discharge FAA's statutory safety-first mandate. In spite of the FAA acknowledging both radar interference to Air Traffic Control and significant adverse impacts to Visual Flight Rule (VFR) operations, the FAA still issued its third No Hazard Determination in 2010, shortly after the Department of Interior issued its approval for Cape Wind.
In its most recent 2010 Determinations of No Hazard, the FAA erroneously focused exclusively on whether the turbines met the technical definition of obstruction (e.g. whether they exceeded 500 feet) without considering separately whether they would interfere with air navigation. This flaw formed one of the bases of lawsuits by both the Town of Barnstable, which owns and operates one of the three local airports in the area, and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a non-profit environmental group dedicated to the long term protection of Nantucket Sound. In a victory for public safety, on October 28, 2011, the US Court of Appeals vacated the FAA Determinations of No Hazard (Town of Barnstable, Mass. v. FAA, 659 F.3d. 28 (D.C. Cir. 2011). As a result of this ruling, the Cape Wind project is currently under review once again by your agency.
Because of the Federal Court order, the FAA must now again consider the very real aviation safety risks posed by Cape Wind's 25 square mile wind plant proposed for an area directly in the middle of a highly trafficked, low altitude flight corridor in Nantucket Sound with three airports in close proximity. This area hosts well established VFR routes between two of the three busiest airports in the state with 400,000 flights per year over, in, and near the project area, with two thirds of the air traffic concentrated in the few summer months. It is also an area of rapidly changing unique weather conditions, forcing both IFR and VFR pilots to navigate between frequent fog and low visibility low ceiling conditions.
As you know, the Cape Wind project has been the subject of intense publicity and has received the ardent support of both the state and federal administrations to propel Cape Wind forward. Our review of the internal FAA documents produced in response to our FOIA requests reveals that FAA's Obstruction Evaluation process has also been subject to pressure from these external sources, resulting in FAA taking inappropriate shortcuts in its review. Accordingly, the Alliance has grave concerns that the FAA will once again attempt to rubberstamp the Cape Wind review in spite of the unacceptable risks to aviation safety.
Specifically, the FOIA responses reveal:
1. A clear pattern of political pressure on the FAA to rush the review process;
2. Admissions of safety impacts by FAA personnel evaluating the impact of Cape Wind's proposed 130 turbines;
3. Failure to use appropriate procedures to resolve ambiguity and contrary opinions regarding the effectiveness of proposed technical measures to mitigate radar impacts;
4. Relaxation of mitigation requirements in order to protect the project proponent's economic interests rather than the safety of the aviation community and integrity of the NAS; and
5. A possibility of threats to national security.
The FOIA documents obtained clearly show that the FAA's own experts, including ATC, have determined that the Cape Wind's 44 story, 25 square mile wind plant would have an adverse effect on the 400,000 annual flights a year that traverse this airspace, and that the effectiveness of the proposed mitigation options are uncertain at best. It is also clear that the wind plant will endanger not only the well-established low altitude VFR routes, but the multi-class commercial flights operating in this already compressed airspace, with the very strong possibility that ATC's ability to manage the NAS in this area will be put at risk.
The FAA's own internal emails and memos, combined with years of testimony previously provided by some of the world's leading radar experts in conjunction with objections by the regional airport managers, ATC managers, AOPA and airline operators, as well as a Court order vacating the most recent FAA DNH, indicate a pattern of the FAA succumbing to political pressure with suboptimal decisions leading to serious public safety risks. The FAA needs to uphold its responsibility to protect the local aviation community and must render an unconditional "Determination of Hazard" for the 130 turbines proposed for Nantucket Sound.
President and CEO
cc: Sheri Edgett-Baron, Manager, FAA Obstruction Evaluation Group