Another Flap Over Cape Wind; Coast Guard Remains Neutral

By ALEXIS TONTI

In the latest war of words over a proposed wind farm for Nantucket Sound, a newspaper article has quoted a Coast Guard official calling the Cape Wind project a "manageable" risk - but the Coast Guard says the emphasis in the article is wrong.

Coast Guard officials reiterate that they have taken no official position on the project, and are only beginning to review its potential impacts.

The article ran on the front page of the Cape Cod Times Friday, accompanied by a bold headline: "Coast Guard report calls the Nantucket Sound wind farm an ‘acceptable risk.'"

The article said the Coast Guard presented a 31-page report with its findings to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the regulatory agency overseeing the project.

But the Coast Guard in fact has submitted no reports of its own to the Army Corps. Although they require a navigational risk assessment as part of the larger permitting process, they have only reviewed the assessment - conducted by a consultant hired by Cape Wind - and offered concerns and suggestions for further study.

"We do not approve or disapprove," said CPO Phyllis Gamache-Jensen, a spokesman for the Coast Guard. "We are in the infant stages of a review process that seeks input from everybody: state, local and federal agencies and the public. We are looking at a small piece of this project."

The Army Corps permit manager for the wind farm yesterday compared the assessment to the determination by the Federal Aviation Administration that the project poses no hazard for aviation: "All things feed into the environmental impact statement, and we are not sure yet what alternatives [for analysis] will need to be looked at," said Karen Adams, the permit manager.

She added that the reporting on the assessment ("obtained . . . by the Cape Cod Times") took people by surprise. "It was not something we were planning on publishing separately, but the applicant was able to go ahead and pull it together in advance."

The Army Corps is preparing a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that fully evaluates the benefits and detriments posed by the 130-turbine wind farm. In all, 17 state and federal agencies will review the wind farm's potential impacts and contribute their analyses to the DEIS.

The study referenced in the Times was prepared by the ESS Group Inc. of Wellesley. It assesses how the wind farm would affect navigational safety, search and rescue operations and communications in Nantucket Sound.

It also looks at the environment in the sound, types of boating activity in the area and their typical operating routes.

In a cover letter that accompanied the release of the report, Army Corps spokesman Larry Rosenberg wrote: "It is expected that this will become a part of the DEIS. However, it is premature for us to make any determination as to whether this is complete or if any additional navigation impact assessment will be required for the DEIS."

A flurry of press releases came soon after the article hit the newsstands. The Coast Guard sent one out emphasizing that the assessment is a baseline for continued study.

Opponents of the wind farm, for whom the risk to boaters is a central argument, were also quick to seek clarification from Coast Guard officials. Ernie Corrigan, spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, yesterday called the confusion a casualty of daily journalism.

"People are looking for closure on this project; they're looking to tally the score and declare the game over," Mr. Corrigan said. "But we are still months away from the Army Corps issuing a DEIS, and until then the best thing to do is look at this thing coldly, without getting drawn into the emotion of it."

Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers also noted that the Coast Guard's comments were a preliminary finding, but was pleased at the suggestion that the wind farm can coexist with other uses of Nantucket Sound.

"We were gratified from the analysis the Coast Guard has done so far," Mr. Rodgers said. "There have been a lot of horror stories and fear mongering about the project, and it is important to get disinterested third party regulators to validate or invalidate those concerns."