Tribes get a hearing on wind farm opposition

With decision looming, Salazar meets face to face

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / February 3, 2010

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ABOARD THE USCGC IDA LEWIS - The place? Middle of Nantucket Sound. The weather? 28 degrees and overcast.

And with the wind barely blowing yesterday, the conditions were hardly ideal for talking about plopping a 130-turbine wind farm about 5 miles off Cape Cod.

Yet there was US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the man deciding the fate of the controversial wind farm, sitting on the bridge of a Coast Guard vessel and peering out across the Sound with binoculars a few hours after meeting with Native Americans opposed to the Cape Wind project.

“Very meaningful,’’ said Salazar about his visit that included a private sunrise meeting with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on a Cape Cod beach, and a later discussion with the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha’s Vineyard.

Standing on the deck of the Ida Lewis during a boat tour of the proposed wind farm’s footprint, he said he came to Cape Cod and the Islands as a sign of respect to the Wampanoag tribes’ deep reverence for the water body.

“We hear them loud and clear,’’ he said.

Salazar announced no conclusions yesterday about the advisability of locating the wind farm in the scenic Sound, but his visit to the Wampanoag and the area underscores just how high-stakes the Cape Wind farm has become to the Obama administration, which is hoping to accelerate renewable energy efforts and show the world it is serious about fighting manmade climate change. If completed, the project’s developers say it will supply, on average, the equivalent of 75 percent of the energy needs of Cape Cod and the Islands.

For opponents and supporters of the wind farm, the day appeared as a kind of last stand after a nine-year permitting saga. About 60 demonstrators waved signs for and against the project as Salazar’s boat docked an hour late in Woods Hole.

Salazar’s visit appeared to somewhat ease the Wampanoag tribes’ longstanding complaint that the federal government never took them seriously when they said the wind farm would interfere with their spiritual sun greetings and be built on ancestral grounds that were dry land thousands of years ago.

That complaint gained prominence last month after the National Park Service ruled that the 560-square mile Nantucket Sound was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property.

“For the first time, we believe that our concerns are being heard, and we look forward to continuing the process of consultation until an acceptable outcome has been achieved,’’ said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in a statement. “This process is long overdue, and we thank Secretary Salazar and President Obama for their commitment to the rights of Native Americans.’’

But Aquinnah Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said she was deeply concerned that Salazar spent more time with a large press corps - dozens strong - that accompanied him on the Nantucket Sound tour than with the Wampanoag tribes.

“The Mashpee and Aquinnah were given 90 minutes each to give 13,000 years of history,’’ she said, noting that the boat tour with the media lasted 3.5 hours.

Speaking to the reporters, Salazar reiterated that a final decision on Cape Wind would be made by April.

He said he was not “holding my breath for a consensus’’ among Native Americans and the project’s developer.

Native Americans have repeatedly said the only compromise they would accept was for the wind farm to be moved outside Nantucket Sound.

The developers have said that is not possible without starting the permitting process again.

“The worst thing we can do for the country is for [this project] to be in a state of indecision,’’ said Salazar as the Ida Lewis stopped near a 190-foot meteorological test tower to gather wind speed and temperature data. “And this application has been in a state of indecision’’ for years.

Salazar’s visit comes after he summoned parties involved in the Native American and Cape Wind dispute to Washington, D.C., last month and gave them until March 1 to hammer out an agreement.

There, the Wampanoag invited him to visit them on their sacred land to better understand how precious Nantucket Sound is to them.

Beth Daley can be reached at