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State preservation chief cites wind farm impact

Simon says Native American sites are likely to be harmed

A Nantucket Sound wind farm opponent presented one side of the sentiment. A Nantucket Sound wind farm opponent presented one side of the sentiment. (Dina Rudick/globe staff)
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / March 23, 2010

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BARNSTABLE — The state’s top historic preservation official told a federal panel yesterday that the impact of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm on Native American and other historic sites is “unparalleled’’ in the state’s history.

It was Brona Simon’s first public remarks on the Cape Wind project since issuing a formal opinion in November that Nantucket Sound should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its cultural importance to two Indian tribes. That recommendation, which conflicted with the views of the federal agency overseeing an environmental review of Cape Wind, created a controversy that will culminate in a final decision on the project by US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar next month.

Simon and proponents and opponents of the project testified during a four-hour hearing before the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a five-member panel advising Salazar. The group will deliver its recommendations to Salazar no later than April 14. He is not obligated to follow the council’s advice, only to consider it, and he is expected to make his decision soon after receiving it.

“The magnitude is unparalleled in Massachusetts,’’ Simon, the Massachusetts historic preservation officer, told the council, pointing out that the 130 turbines will cover an area of about 25 square miles.

Simon said the next biggest project her office has ever reviewed was a highway in Central Massachusetts that encompassed 3.9 square miles. “You can see the concern we have about the adverse effects of the project,’’ she said.

Cape Cod’s maritime setting is critical to the Wampanoag, she said, and it is likely that Native American archeological sites could be harmed by anchoring the turbines to the sea floor.

Her comments were met with loud applause from many in the audience of more than 200 at Cape Cod Community College.

The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes say they need an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound to carry out spiritual sun greetings and that the waterway’s seabed, which was exposed land thousands of years ago, is sacred ancestral land that would be disturbed by building turbines on it. Yesterday, the Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Indian Nation also came out against the project.

The Minerals Management Service, the federal agency charged with issuing a permit for the project, disagreed with Simon’s November opinion, but the National Park Service, like the Minerals Management Service, a part of the Interior Department, agreed, saying the 560-square-mile sound is eligible to be listed on the National Register.

At yesterday’s hearing, Eleftherios Pavlides, a professor of archeology at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and a specialist in historic preservation, said the wind farm would actually help historic buildings, by ensuring that pollution from coal-burning plants that contribute to acid rain would be replaced by wind energy. Acid rain can pit stone buildings.

Opponents were occasionally loud during the otherwise sedate hearing, once booing a Cape Wind supporter after she spoke. Many against the project asked whether the project could be moved to an area south of Tuckernuck Island off Nantucket.

“The cultural and historic resources will be diminished,’’ Roberta Lane, senior program officer and regional attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in urging that the project be moved. She said the turbines will be in the setting of historic properties and “setting is integral to the historic significance of these places.’’ She said there would also be direct impact on Native American cultural sites.

Salazar has indicated he would not entertain moving the project, which would require Cape Wind Associates, the wind farm developer, to start over in its nine-year quest for permits. The developer has said it would be technically unfeasible and expensive to put turbines off Tuckernuck Island. There may also be Native American and other historic concerns there.

Sarah Cote — an employee of Clean Power Now, a group supporting Cape Wind — said she got involved with supporting the project while in high school and said it needed to be built.

“Every place has its own sense of beauty and value,’’ Cote said, noting that the biggest objections to the wind farm have to do with its impact on the view from shore. If the project were stopped on that basis, she said, “it would set a negative precedent.’’

Selectman Ahmed Mustafa of Falmouth, a Cape Wind supporter, said he trusted the advisory panel to make the right recommendation.

“As you know, the whole earth is historic,’’ he said.