Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A wind farm vs sacred rituals

Here is a messy case of an effort to develop a wind farm on Cape Cod (the picture on the right is of a Danish wind farm) and how it affects the rituals of the tribe, Wampanoag. As usual, here is a mixture of politics, science, business, environmental issues and Native property rights:

The Wampanoag — the tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims in the 17th century and known as "The People of the First Light" — practice sacred rituals requiring an unblocked view of the sunrise. That view won't exist once 130 turbines, each over 400 feet tall, are built several miles from shore in Nantucket Sound, visible to Wampanoag in Mashpee and on Martha's Vineyard.

Tribal rituals, including dancing and chanting, take place at secret sacred sites around the sound at various times, such as the summer and winter solstices and when an elder passes.

The Wampanoag fight to preserve their ceremonies has become the latest obstacle — some say delay tactic — for a pioneering wind energy project that seemed at the cusp of final approval.

"We, the Wampanoag people, who opened our arms and allowed people to come here for religious freedoms, are now being threatened with our religion being taken away for the profits of one single group of investors," Green said.

The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag claim Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property. The tribes say the designation, which would come with new regulations for activity on the sound, is needed to preserve not only their pristine views but ancestors' remains buried on Horseshoe Shoal, where the turbines would be built.

Of course, things are not that simple:

Cape Wind supporters say the tribes' claim for a National Register listing for the sound is baseless and was sprung late, in league with the project's most vociferous opponents, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

"I think this is clearly a tactic for delay, for delay's sake," said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind. "I think it's fair to say, looking at the past eight years, that opponents to Cape Wind have tried every conceivable strategy to slow down or stop the project."

But the question hinges on what can be included as Traditional Cultural Property?

A parks service decision that the sound should be listed a Traditional Cultural Property wouldn't kill Cape Wind, but it could add months to the approval process by forcing developers to comply with the designation's various standards.
Two Massachusetts environmental and economic development officials, Ian Bowles and Greg Bialecki, produced a list of commercial activities — from commercial fishing to sand mining — they said would be hurt by the ensuing new regulations. They also argued the Supreme Court has ruled that a vast, unenclosed body of water such as the 560-square mile Nantucket Sound isn't eligible as a Traditional Cultural Property.

"It seems clear that this request for such a designation, coming at this time, is an attempt to block or further delay renewable energy development in Nantucket Sound," their letter said.

Read the full article here.


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