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Official fined for ethics violation in project testimony

December 2, 2008
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The state ethics commission determined yesterday that a former member of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission violated the state's conflict of interest law by testifying before state and federal agencies about the environmental impact of the Cape Wind project while working as a paid consultant for the wind farm's leading opponent.

Mark Weissman, who served on the fisheries commission until August, was fined $2,500. The maximum penalty could have been $4,000 for these violations, said David Giannotti of the ethics commission.

In a phone interview last night, Weissman called the issue a "misunderstanding" of state law and said that he disclosed his work for the Cape Wind opponent to colleagues and some superiors as early as 2003.

"There was nothing hidden about my actions," he said.

On various occasions between 2002 and 2007, Weissman testified before federal and state agencies in his capacity as a state official that the proposal to erect 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound needed further environmental review. He also "voiced skepticism" about fisheries data used in federal environmental impact analyses, according to the ethics commission's findings.

Since 2003, Weissman has received about $48,000 in consulting fees from the central opponent to the Cape Wind project, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the commission found. About $8,000 was related to the group's efforts to stop the Cape Wind project.

While Weissman disclosed the relationship to his fellow board members in 2003, the ethics commission penalized him for not disclosing it in writing to the governor, as the conflict of interest law requires.

The ethics commission also found that he violated the law because he testified as a state official in proceedings related to the Cape Wind project while taking money from one of its opponents.

Weissman said he did not disclose in public hearings that he was paid by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound because he was testifying only in his capacity as a commission member.

In testimony where he identified himself as a member of the marine fisheries commission in 2004, Weissman criticized a draft environmental review of Cape Wind issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the state and expressed concern that the project would compromise marine resources.

Since 2005, a different federal agency has had control over the environmental analysis and federal lease process for Cape Wind.

BINA VENKATARAMAN

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