WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2010 (ENS) – The National Park Service today announced the decision by its Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places that Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts is eligible for listing in the National Register for its significance as a traditional cultural property and as an historic and archeological property.

The finding of eligibility ensures that archeological, historic and cultural values are considered by the federal Minerals Management Service in its review of the permit for the proposed $900 million Cape Wind offshore wind farm.

Cape Wind Associates LLC is proposing America’s first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound at least five miles from any point of land. The proposal has been controversial because of its location in Nantucket Sound, a roughly triangular area of the Atlantic Ocean that hosts federally protected species and a variety of commercially and recreationally valuable fisheries.

Under the proposal, 130 wind turbines would harness the wind to produce up to 420 megawatts of renewable energy to feed the New England Power Pool, helping Massachusetts to meet its renewable portfolio standard.

In his response to today’s eligibility determination, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, “After several years of review, it is now time to move the Cape Wind proposal to a final decision point. That is why I am gathering the principal parties together next week to consider the findings of the Keeper and to discuss how we might find a commonsense agreement on actions that could be taken to minimize and mitigate Cape Wind’s potential impacts on historic and cultural resources.

“I am hopeful that an agreement among the parties can be reached by March 1,” said Salazar. “If an agreement among the parties can’t be reached, I will be prepared to take the steps necessary to bring the permit process to conclusion. The public, the parties, and the permit applicants deserve certainty and resolution.”

Cape Wind Associates, a partnership between Energy Management Inc. and Wind Management LLC, has been going through the planning and permitting phases of the offshore wind project since 2002.

In May 2009, Cape Wind completed its state and local permitting process with a unanimous vote of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board to grant Cape Wind a Certificate of Environmental Impact and Public Interest that rolls up all state and local permits and approvals into one composite certificate, concluding a seven-year state regulatory review of the project.

The regional utility National Grid has entered into Power Purchase Agreement negotiations with Cape Wind Associates.

Two independent public opinion polls have found statewide support for Cape Wind to be 86 percent. But a Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce poll of its members in December 2009 found 55 percent of respondents opposed to the wind farm.

Also in December, the University of Delaware released results of a survey of Cape Cod residents’ showing that 57 percent now support the Cape Wind project with 41 percent opposing it, showing a reverse in public opinion. The statistically representative sample was matched in methods to a survey taken by the same team in 2005 which found 44 percent supported it and 56 percent opposed.

“This finding suggests that the project has broad support on the Cape, although the developer has yet to win the hearts and minds of residents whose view might be most affected,” said Jeremy Firestone, University of Delaware assistant professor of marine policy, who led the survey team.

Today, the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places made a determination that the Sound is eligible for the Register based on its associations with the ancient and historic period Native American exploration and settlement of Cape Cod and the Islands.

The Keeper decided that Nantucket Sound is a significant and distinguishable entity integral to the indigenous Wampanoags’ folklife traditions, practices, cosmology, religion, material culture, foodways, mentoring, and narratives. The Wampanoag, related to the larger Algonquin Nation of Southern New England, are a federally recognized tribe.

The Keeper also said Nantucket Sound is worthy of listing in the National Register “for the important cultural, historical, and scientific information it has yielded and/or may be likely to yield through archeology, history, and ethnography about access to resources, patterns of settlement, mobility, and land use prior to and after 6,000 years ago as a result of the inundation of the Sound.”

It is also important for the significant information it provides and can provide about the cultural practices and traditions of the Native Americans of Cape Cod and the Islands in relationship with other peoples since ancient times, the Keeper determined.

In November 2009, Massachusetts’ top historic preservation officer ruled the same way. But in February, 2008, state law was amended removing a prohibition on the construction of electrical generating facilities within ocean sanctuaries.

“America’s vast offshore wind resources offer exciting potential for our clean energy economy and for our nation’s efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Secretary Salazar. “But as we begin to develop these resources, we must ensure that we are doing so in the right way and in the right places.”

Salazar said, “The Keeper’s finding that Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing in the National Register provides information that will help us to undertake final consultations and analysis of potential impacts of wind development on historic and cultural resources in Nantucket Sound.”

Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rogers told ENS, “It’s great news that Secretary Salazar has announced the start of his own direct personal involvement in bringing the Cape Wind review to a conclusion so he can make his final decision.”

“The issues the Tribes have raised will be among the many issues Secretary Salazar will have in front of him when he makes his over-arching decision on the project and we’re confident when he looks at the project in its entirety he’ll see that the benefits of jobs, cleaner air, greater energy independence and taking action on climate change will far outweigh any perceived negative impact.

“By approving Cape Wind, Secretary Salazar can launch a whole new industry in the United States – clean offshore renewable energy at utility scale,” said Rogers.

Critics of the wind farm, particularly the nonprofit Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, say it will raise electric rates, pose a threat to public safety at air and at sea, cause a loss of tourism and related jobs, harm historical and tribal properties, and threaten the environment.

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