Offshore - Construction permissions - Ultimatum issued for mammoth US project

US: Hopeful of a solution despite a last-ditch attempt by Native American tribe to halt the controversial 420MW wind project.

US interior secretary Ken Salazar

The massive Cape Wind offshore wind project has been set a new deadline for the bickering to end and the work to begin. US interior secretary Ken Salazar has given an unofficial deadline this month to the various stakeholders for and against the proposed 420MW wind farm to strike an agreement, otherwise his office will make a decision either to allow or deny construction of the project.

Cape Wind, which is to be sited in Nantucket Sound, Massachusetts, has become the symbol of the US's struggle to take wind power offshore and the intense not-in-my-backyard opposition (nimbyism) that can result. It seems that every hurdle it surmounts is followed by another.

The latest comes from a Native American tribe based in Massachusetts that says the wind project would infringe on their centuries-old traditions. The Wampanoag, which in their language means "people of the first light", have for centuries observed the first light of the sun rising up in Nantucket Sound. The tribes applied to the National Park Service, under the control of Secretary Salazar's department, to have the area listed as a cultural heritage site. Should the area be conferred with such status, the development of Cape Wind could be prohibited. The agency deemed the area eligible but a final decision is pending.

Tribal tribulations

In the nine years Cape Wind has been in the construction-permissions system, the tribe's concerns have never factored prominently - although the Native Americans say they have long been against the project. But this is leading some to believe that the wealthy and influential beachfront landowners that have long been against the project have co-opted the tribe into taking a more forceful stand against the project as the final leg of the permission process approaches.

"Cape Wind has passed every environmental hurdle," says George Backrack, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the oldest environmental organisation in the state. "What we're seeing now is the last gasp of opponents whose only interest is nimbyism - to enlist Indian tribes to front for them on an issue that has no merit."

He adds: "All of us on this call are respectful of historic preservation, all of us are respectful of the rights of Indian tribes, all of us are dismayed they allowed themselves to be used in this fashion to attempt to delay a project that is so necessary for fossil-fuel dependent New England."

Secretary Salazar visited the site in January, including joining a sunrise ceremony with the Wampanoag. He has not tipped his trademark cowboy hat towards which decision he will take in April should the various lobby groups fail to reach an accord this month. Whether he grants a permit or not, appeals are likely from both sides.