Cape Wind review called ‘rushed’

But findings not altered, US says

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / February 4, 2010

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A federal inspector general’s investigation into the Minerals Management Service’s environmental review of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm has concluded that several federal agencies felt “unnecessarily rushed’’ to finish their contributions to the report, although no agency believed its overall conclusions changed as a result.

The US Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General also found that the Minerals Management Service’s January 2009 final environmental review, which was largely favorable toward the Cape Wind project, did not include the most current findings about the impact on air traffic. The Federal Aviation Administration had determined that the 130 proposed wind turbines, soaring more than 400 feet above the ocean, would be a “presumed hazard’’ to aircraft, but the report used an outdated FAA finding that determined there was no hazard.

The Interior Department, of which the Minerals Management Service is a part, released a statement saying the Inspector General’s report shows the final Cape Wind environmental review “was not the subject of improper political influence or otherwise deficient.’’ Still, Secretary Ken Salazar sent a letter to acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, saying his staff would review the report and provide recommendations on any issues that are important to his upcoming Cape Wind decision or on how it might strengthen new offshore renewable energy rules. Salazar has said he will make a final decision on the Cape Wind project by April.

The investigation took place after multiple complaints about the timeline and other aspects of the project, including a December 2008 complaint from the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a longtime opponent of the project, according to the report.

The final environmental review was announced on the final business day of the Bush administration. Officials of federal agencies said they felt rushed to finish the report before President Bush left office.

That pressure forced them to act “atypically,’’ according to the report. “None of the agencies believed, however, that the expedited timeline affected their overall conclusions,’’ the Inspector General wrote in the 52-page report.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the project’s main opposition group, released a statement from president and CEO Audra Parker, saying, “It confirms what has been clear for a number of years - that the federal review of Cape Wind was a flawed process.’’

But Sue Reid of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental group that supports the project, said, “We are really pleased this report gives a clean bill of health to the environmental review of Cape Wind, as it should.’’

A spokesman for Cape Wind Associates said they were still reviewing the document.

Beth Daley can be reached at