Federal agencies who were part of a key review of a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod felt rushed to finish it before the end of the Bush presidency, according to a government report released Wednesday.
But the Department of Interior's Office of the Inspector General said the agencies didn't believe the added pressure affected their final decisions.
"While none of the agencies believed ... (the) timeline affected their overall conclusions, each agency expressed frustration at various levels that the timeline prevented them from being as thorough in their reviews as they would have desired," the report said.
In January 2009, during the final days of the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service, the lead agency reviewing the project, released a report that found Cape Wind posed no major environmental risks.
The inspector general agreed to investigate after various complaints about the report from Cape Wind opponents, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes Cape Wind, said it's not plausible for agencies to say they felt hurried, but their work was unaffected. She said key public safety issues involving aviation and navigation around Cape Wind need to be revisited before the project moves forward.
"The rushed process compromised the project," she said.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said he was still reviewing the report and could not comment. Barbara Hill of the pro-Cape Wind group Clean Power Now said it's ludicrous to claim a project under review since 2001 was rushed.
"I can't imagine anyone saying with a straight face that this review was rushed," she said. "Every report, ... all the conclusions have been the same. It's a good project and it's going to supply enormous benefits."
Cape Wind developers have proposed building 130 turbines, each more than 400 feet tall, in Nantucket Sound in what would be the nation's first offshore wind farm.
Supporters say the wind farm will provide cheaper energy, green jobs and cleaner air, but opponents say it's a threat to aviation, bird life and commercial fishing interests. Two Native American tribes argue it will interfere with their sacred rituals and be built on a long-submerged burial ground.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said he'll decide by the end of April whether to approve the project.
In a statement Wednesday, Salazar said the MMS report "was not the subject of improper political influence or otherwise deficient," but that his office would review the IG's findings and make recommendations about any issues relevant to his pending decision.
Among several complaints addressed in the report were those of an unidentified captain of the Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, who said a Coast Guard review on possible radar interference from Cape Wind was as sophisticated as a "high school project." He also said the Coast Guard's handling of local marine navigational concerns was "past the point of embarrassment."
An unidentified Coast Guard captain interviewed by the inspector general said he was told the time line to finish their review was tied to the end of the Bush administration, and the Coast Guard's involvement in the process got "shortchanged a bit." But he said safety wasn't jeopardized.
The inspector general's report also noted that a Federal Aviation Administration finding that Cape Wind was a "presumed hazard" to aircraft because it would interfere with air navigational systems wasn't included in the January 2009 report by the MMS. Instead, it published an outdated finding of "no adverse effect."
But MMS and the FAA said the most up-to-date finding was not required in the January 2009 report, which also indicated more FAA study was pending, according to the inspector general.
Dennis Duffy, a Cape Wind vice president, told the inspector general that Cape Wind is working with the FAA to alleviate its concerns, according to the report.
On the Net:
Inspector General's report: http://www.doioig.gov/
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