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For nine years now, a private developer has been working to get approval for 130 wind turbines on Cape Cod. Local opposition has been strong. Now, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is poised to decide whether the country's first offshore wind farm can be built there. Sean Corcoran reports from member station WCAI.
SEAN CORCORAN: The waters of Nantucket Sound were unseasonably calm when the interior secretary stood near the bow of the Coast Guard Vessel Ida Lewis recently on his first visit to the proposed wind farm site. Here, the wind typically blows at an average speed of 19 miles per hour, making it popular with recreational sailors.
But during Salazar's visit, not even a brief gust threatened his trademark black Stetson as he announced that after nearly a decade of review, it was time to decide the fate of the project called Cape Wind.
Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Department of the Interior): I think the worst thing that we can do for the country is to be in a state of indecision, and this application has been in a state of indecision for a very long time.
CORCORAN: Cape Cod is that arm-shaped peninsula that extends out from Massachusetts, and Cape Wind's closest 440-foot-tall turbine would be five miles to its south in Nantucket Sound. It's shallow here, less than a foot deep in some places, which is one of the reasons Cape Wind officials insist it's the region's best location for an offshore wind farm.
Whether that's true or not is now up to Salazar. And no matter what he decides about this project, Salazar says offshore wind power is coming to the United States.
Sec. SALAZAR: Well, as I've always said with respect to renewable energy on the onshore, it's important to do wind energy in the right places. That is the critical question that we're addressing here at Nantucket Sound, you know: Is this the right place for wind energy or is it not?
CORCORAN: For the past year, Cape Wind has been on a winning streak, with court victories, state approvals and a mostly favorable environmental impact statement from the federal government.
Mark Rodgers, a communications director for Cape Wind, says that since it first was announced in 2001, the billion-dollar project has garnered strong statewide support with its promise to meet two-thirds of the Cape's electricity needs, while offering energy independence and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. MARK RODGERS (Communications director, Cape Wind): Cape Wind has wider and deeper support than any energy project in the history of New England, leading environmental organizations, labor unions, trade associations and just across the general public.
CORCORAN: But most local officials oppose its location in an area used by fishermen and boaters, and the local Chamber of Commerce says Cape Wind is a threat to the region's only industry: tourism.
Until his death last year, the most prominent opponent was Senator Ted Kennedy, whose family life on Nantucket Sound was well-documented. Now the loudest voice against the project comes from two local Native American tribes.
Ms. BETTINA WASHINGTON (Historic Preservation Officer, Wampanoag Tribe): We're the Wampanoag, People of the First Light, and it's our responsibility to greet that day.
CORCORAN: That's Bettina Washington, the historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard. She says the project would infringe on the tribe's religious and cultural rights by interfering with their view of the rising sun, and it also may disturb archaeological evidence of tribal life.
Ms. WASHINGTON: The waters now cover what we know were ancestral homelands that we walked. We lived there. We went to the edge of those shores to fish, and we interred our dead in those lands that are now covered by water.
CORCORAN: The strong Native American opposition may present the final hurdle for the project. Last fall, the Wampanoag successfully petitioned to have Nantucket Sound declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, making the permitting process more difficult.
Salazar met with the tribes for a sunrise ceremony during his visit to the Cape. He says he's taking their concerns seriously as he wades through all the issues, with an eye towards releasing his decision sometime in April.
For NPR News, I'm Sean Corcoran on Cape Cod.
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