Interior Secretary Considers Wind Farm Project on Underwater Cultural Site

Posted on February 10, 2010


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to Nantucket Sound last week to get the kind of information he says he can’t find on maps and in books.  He is tasked with resolving whether an off-shore wind farm proposal (“Cape Wind”) now ten years in the works will move forward.  The hook?  The proposed site is the cultural property of the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag nations.  (The Mashpee now live on Cape Cod and the Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, and the proposed site is within view of both).

But just what does that mean — a section of water being “cultural property”?  Even I usually think of tangible items upon hearing the term, at the very least land.  The nations contesting the wind farm project argue that this section of land used to be above water, which means their ancestors lived and died on the land, and it is sacred.  They also argue that the wind farm would disrupt their view of the rising sun, which is “ceremonially essential” to them.

Legally speaking, for the site to be “cultural property” means (1) that the Massachusetts’ State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) deemed the site “traditional cultural property” in early January, and (2) the National Park Service has said the site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a “significant traditional, cultural, historic and archaeological property.”

Core samples have confirmed that the area was above water 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, and if that is the case than there were Native American inhabitants of the land at that time.  Salazar was clear that no archaeological remains have been found, only evidence of a land surface.

Cape Wind would be build on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, and would be as close as four miles offshore, covering an area of 25 square miles.  There would be 130 wind turbines rising 440 feet above the ocean, as well as a 10-story electrical service platform with a helicopter pad, 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and 40,000 gallons of transformer oil.

Salazar has promised to either approve or reject the Cape Wind proposal by April.

Read Salazar weighs two imperatives in Cape Wind energy proposal in Indian Country Today.

Or, for a slightly different account, Ken Salazar Visits Tribes, Nantucket Sound As Part Of Wind Farm Review, on Cape News the Enterprise.