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A slow and deliberate process -- Cape Cod offshore permitting

The regulatory process examining Cape Wind Associates' proposed 130-turbine, 468 MW offshore wind project in waters off the New England coast is inching forward, but at no more than turtle's pace. An expected Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) failed to materialise at a public meeting in late October, called by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the permitting body for the project. USACE said the document will not be produced until sometime in 2004, if then.

Once the draft EIS is complete, another extensive public comment period will occur, after which the USACE will complete a final EIS. The federal agency will then issue its decision -- either "yes" to the proposal, "no" to the proposal, or "yes, with conditions." USACE's Larry Rosenberg stresses that the Corps by law has only those three options available to it and that it does not have the ability to tell the developer to build the proposed project elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the federal lead agency announced at the meeting that for purposes of comparison, Cape Wind will be asked to look at five other "alternate sites" for a large-scale wind project. Those sites include two different locations within Nantucket Sound; a location in deeper water just south of Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard; a location on the Massachusetts Military Reservation; and a combined site partly in New Bedford harbour in Buzzard's Bay and partly on Horseshoe Shoal. Although USACE does not have the legal power to insist that Cape Wind build its proposed project at another site, it does have the power to determine whether an alternate site would better suit the public's interest.

USACE district engineer Thomas L. Koning acknowledged at the meeting that some individuals and interest groups had complained the EIS process has been taking too long. Others, he said, complain the process has been too fast. "I'm the guy that's driving the speed," he said, and this is going to be "a slow and deliberate process...Eventually, we are going to be issuing a draft EIS."

For his part, developer Jim Gordon seems resigned to the ever-lengthening permitting process. "I'd like to see the region get Cape Wind's benefits...sooner rather than later," he says. "We've been going through a very rigorous and comprehensive permitting process for two years now. We understand the Corps has asked for more information and we will provide it them."

Gordon says that Cape Wind Associates has so far spent more than $12 million on researching the project and on fulfilling USACE's requests. "This has been an extremely expensive permitting process because we have oceanographers, marine biologists, meteorologists, geologists -- a large team of scientists and engineers working with our company's professionals. This is an extremely expensive project to develop." Gordon's project partner is GE Wind.

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