Press Release - Barnstable, Citizens Groups Allege Federal Agencies Broke Law in Cape Wind Review

June 20, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                           

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Alice McCann
O’Neill and Associates
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BARNSTABLE, CITIZEN GROUPS, ALLEGE FEDERAL AGENCIES BROKE LAW IN CAPE WIND REVIEW

Coast Guard decisions relative to Cape Wind “manifestly dangerous” and “perilous”;
Safety measures take back seat for fear they would “kill the project”

Hyannis, Mass (June 20, 2013) –Internal documents show the Coast Guard violated federal law and disregarded its own safety standards when it failed to require the necessary terms and conditions to ensure navigational safety in Nantucket Sound, the site of the proposed Cape Wind project, according to a new brief filed in federal court. In addition, internal emails show that Coast Guard officials made safety decisions based not on what was good for public safety, but what was economically good for the wind project developer.

Federal law requires that the Coast Guard ensure navigational safety in Nantucket Sound – one of the most heavily used and most hazardous bodies of water in the nation.

According to the brief filed by the Town of Barnstable, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the review failed to address safety concerns about radar interference and failed to establish buffer zones between turbines and navigation channels, thus putting millions of individuals that travel through Nantucket Sound each year at risk.  More than three million people travel by ferry through Nantucket Sound each year, and the waterway is in frequent use by commercial and recreational fishermen, ferries and recreational boaters.

“It is clear from these documents that the Coast Guard did not do its job for fear that the necessary safety requirements would kill the project,” said Audra Parker, CEO and President of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “The Coast Guard – like the FAA - ran roughshod over basic laws that protect public safety in its rush to approve the project.”

The brief also details concerns about the threat posed to wildlife, which is PEER’s focus of the litigation. In addition, the brief shows that politically-imposed deadlines combined with Cape Wind’s efforts to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies led federal agencies to break the rules, cut off public review, and make uninformed, arbitrary and capricious decisions regarding the proposed 130 440-foot tall wind turbines.

The brief calls the Coast Guard’s failure to address the major safety issues and resulting risks for millions of individuals as “manifestly dangerous” and “perilous.” Failures cited include the Coast Guard’s decision to:

  • determine that the wind project would have only a moderate impact on navigational safety, despite its own conclusions that radar degradation would “significantly adversely impact the ability of vessels” near the project to detect other vessels within the area
  • disregard its own safety standards for buffer zones between turbines and shipping and ferry routes even though a mere quarter nautical mile separates the project and the Main Channel – the Coast Guard has adopted standards that any distance less than a half nautical mile is “intolerable” and less than one mile is high risk
  • forego imposing buffer zones because the ensuing reduction in the number of turbines wouldn’t be economically advantageous for Cape Wind.

“Emails clearly show that the Coast Guard was afraid to require necessary buffer zones – even though public safety mandates it – for fear that it would reduce the size of the project and render it economically unfeasible,” Parker said.  “The Coast Guard’s first priority should be safety, not the bottom line of a private developer. It’s obvious that a truly objective review would show that the project cannot be safely built in its current location.”

PEER officials said the review failed to consider threats from the project to birds and other wildlife.   In a June 20, 2008 email, Department of Interior’s own wildlife scientists warned that Interior is “heading for a train wreck.”  Kyla Bennett, director of PEER's New England office, said, “Yet again, we see the environment being sacrificed in an effort to push the project. As currently proposed, the Cape Wind project could prove devastating to several endangered and threatened species, including the North Atlantic right whale and birds that rely on Nantucket Sound for feeding and breeding." 

This is not the first time that internal documents related to a federal review of the project have revealed political pressure to ignore safety concerns.  FAA documents obtained by the Alliance a year ago showed Federal Aviation Administration officials worried that their real concerns about the turbine effects on air safety were not welcome by political leaders. One FAA reviewer wrote in May 2010: “It would be very difficult politically to refuse approval of this project.”

The brief is the latest in a series of setbacks for Cape Wind, whose developers are currently attempting to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars through a federal loan guarantee and tax incentives to help fund the project. The project, opposed by industry leaders in Massachusetts, poses enormous environmental, public safety and economic risks and faces five pending federal lawsuits.  The Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership recently ran full page ads in numerous Boston and Washington DC newspapers criticizing the high cost of the project to MA businesses and US taxpayers.

“Cape Wind threatens public safety, puts taxpayers at risk, and saddles Massachusetts ratepayers with billions of dollars in additional electricity costs, only to create manufacturing jobs overseas,” said Parker.  “It’s a tragedy that so much time has been wasted on this outdated project when there are so many innovative, economically viable and lower cost clean energy projects that could be pursued.”