Boston Herald: Cape Wind foes call for probe into pols’ ‘bully’ tactics
By Christine McConville and John Zaremba
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 -
Outraged opponents of Cape Wind are calling for a federal probe into allegations that the Patrick administration and the White House bullied federal aviation officials into brushing off public safety risks and green-lighting what would be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
“FAA has made decisions based on political factors rather than the recommendations of the local aviation community and even its own employees, failing its statutory safety-first mandate,” Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound wrote to the inspector general for the federal Department of Transportation.
In a letter provided to the Herald, the alliance cited a trove of bombshell internal Federal Aviation Administration emails that suggest the agency buckled to political pressure and downplayed fears that the 440-foot tall spinning turbines would interfere with radar and ensnare small, low-flying aircraft.
The Herald reported Saturday that FAA documents obtained by Parker’s group through a public records request contain repeated references to political support for the proposed 130-turbine project five miles offshore of Cape Cod.
“You’ve got a very clear green agenda from the Obama administration, and very clear agenda from the Patrick administration, wanting to have America’s first offshore wind farm, seemingly at the expense of public safety,” Parker has told the Herald. “It’s like offshore wind at any cost.”
Among the documents was one from an internal FAA slide-show presentation in May 2010: “The Secretary of the Interior has approved this project. The Administration is under pressure to promote green energy production. It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”
Gov. Deval Patrick has made so-called renewable power a hallmark of his administration and has vigorously pushed Cape Wind as a symbol of the state’s emerging green energy industry.
The alliance’s latest push comes in the wake of a similar request in January for the U.S. Coast Guard to reconsider its approval of the sprawling project, which would span 24 square miles in heavily traveled Nantucket Sound.
Parker’s group echoed concerns by then-interim U.S. Sen. Paul Kirk that the Coast Guard caved to political pressure and approved Cape Wind despite the wind farm’s potential risk to boat, ferry and barge traffic.
“I’m concerned that inappropriate pressure was brought to bear on the Coast Guard to insist on virtually no safety conditions for Cape Wind,” Kirk — who filled the seat of longtime Cape Wind opponent U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — told U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar in January 2010, when Salazar was conducting a final review.
In his letter, Kirk pointed out the Coast Guard initially wanted Cape Wind to be smaller and its turbines rejiggered to create a “safety zone between the turbine towers and navigation channels.”
But some time after President Obama was elected, Kirk told Salazar, the Coast Guard abandoned its position after “at least one high-level meeting” with high-ranking Interior Department officials.
“The Coast Guard abruptly adopted a position that boaters should simply try to avoid the towers, and that did not prescribe any concrete preventative safety recommendations for the project,” Kirk wrote.
The sudden about-face still bothers Kirk.
“I can’t say conclusively that one agency or another used a flawed process, but a lot of doubts have been raised, and there are questions in my own mind that still aren’t sufficiently answered,” he said yesterday.