By Jay Lindsay
Mashpee, Mass. — From a blustery perch over a Cape Cod beach, Chuckie Green gestures toward a stretch of horizon where he says construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm would destroy his tribe’s religion.
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 more than 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.
The fight to preserve the ceremonies has become the latest obstacle — some say delay tactic — for a pioneering wind energy project.
“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.
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.”
Green bristles at the notion that the tribes, prodded by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, are jumping in late just to gum up the works. Green and Audra Parker, the alliance’s executive director, said the alliance supports the Wampanoags’ claim, but didn’t engineer it.
Cape Wind, proposed in 2001 and expected to cost $1 billion, aims to provide up to 75 percent of Cape Cod’s power. Other offshore wind farm proposals are in earlier stages of development in several states, including Rhode Island, Delaware and Texas.
Cape Wind opponents say it would be a hazard to aviation, harm the environment — including fish and bird life — and mar historic vistas.
A major decision on the Wampanoag claim is due within two weeks.
The U.S. Minerals Management Service, the lead agency reviewing the proposed wind farm, has recommended that the sound is not eligible for the National Register to Brona Simon, head of the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Simon must decide by Nov. 12 if she disagrees. If so, the claim would be sent to the National Parks Service for a final ruling within 45 days.
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.
Simon declined comment through a spokesman for the Massachusetts Secretary of State, which has jurisdiction over her office.
Rodgers said the tribes’ concerns have always been taken seriously, and noted borings were taken at the project site to determine if a burial ground is there — though Green says they don’t go deep enough. In a September letter to the tribes, minerals service officials listed numerous times in the past three years when they met, or tried to meet, to discuss their concerns.
Green said despite the years of review, regulators have never truly met requirements to thoroughly address their concerns — including the pending claim about the sound.
“I don’t expect anything from this, except for due process,” Green said. “And I have not received due process.”