The Coast Guard, at the urging of a Minnesota congressman, will delay by one month its recommendation on the advisability of the nation's first proposed offshore wind farm. It was not clear yesterday whether that will delay the key environmental review of Cape Wind - expected in the next two weeks - that was expected to pave the way for the massive project to move ahead.
The delay came at the request of Representative James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, whose committee oversees the Coast Guard. Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent letters to Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen in September and again last Tuesday, urging further scrutiny of the Coast Guard's study of Cape Wind's potential effect on ship radar.
Connie Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, said yesterday that, in the wake of Oberstar's request, the Guard decided to solicit comments from the public for 30 days before releasing its recommendation. It will hold a public meeting in Falmouth on Thursday.
Coast Guard Captain Raymond Perry had said on Dec. 5 the Coast Guard expected to deliver recommendations by tomorrow. He indicated that any impact on navigation of the proposal to erect 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound could be mitigated, and called the project "doable." Yesterday, Terrell said that the Coast Guard is now scheduled to provide comments to the agency on Jan. 15.
It remains unclear whether the delay will prevent the Minerals Management Service, the agency responsible for evaluating Cape Wind and awarding its lease, from issuing its final environmental review by the end the year as planned.
On Friday, an agency official said that "technically speaking" the review could be released without Coast Guard comments, but that no decision had been made about whether the process would be delayed. Nicholas Pardi of the Minerals Management Service told the Globe on Thursday that the two agencies were working together and that the agency intended to wait for the Coast Guard's recommendations before issuing the review.
The final environmental review by the Minerals Management Service is the last major hurdle that Cape Wind must clear before it can secure its federal lease to put up turbines in Nantucket Shoals. Individuals and groups on various sides expect the review to be favorable.
Jim Barard, a spokesman for the House transportation panel, said Oberstar requested further review of the Coast Guard study for several reasons. "Some of it was input from the public," he said. "Some of it was input from other members of Congress who represent that area."
Barard said he did not know whether Senator Edward M. Kennedy urged Oberstar to delay the Coast Guard's recommendations, but said that Kennedy and Oberstar had been in contact. A spokeswoman for Kennedy said the senator agreed with the content of Oberstar's letter, but would not comment on the record on whether Kennedy asked him to write it. Kennedy has supported previous efforts to thwart Cape Wind's approval.
Groups that oppose Cape Wind said the Coast Guard study warrants a public review period.
"We would like to have radar experts ensure that the findings of radar interference are accurate," said Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group leading the efforts to stop Cape Wind.
A coalition of conservation groups that support Cape Wind called efforts to prolong the Coast Guard's evaluation mere "political meddling."
Clarification: A story in yesterday's Metro section about Senator James L. Oberstar's letter requesting a delay in a Coast Guard recommendation on Cape Wind cited Senator Edward Kennedy's opposition to the project. According to his spokeswoman, Melissa Wagoner, Kennedy did not ask Oberstar to write the letter
Bina Venkataraman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.