In far southeastern Massachusetts, a controversial project calls for the construction of 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, between the Island of Nantucket and the south coast of Cape Cod. The project covers 25 square miles and is expected to cost $2.5 billion. FAA approval was required, so as to ensure radar systems and low altitude flight routes would not be compromised. FAA granted approval on 5/17/2010; however, FAA was then overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in late October 2011. Ten months later, after the court-ordered remand, FAA again granted approval on 8/15/2012.
Key opposition to Cape Wind is the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Formed in 2001, this group charges that FAA’s decision was politically driven and “shows a complete and total disregard for public safety.” They also found it outrageous that FAA made its ruling while simultaneously ignoring an information request from members of Congress.
In a 2/17/2012 letter, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) reiterated its opposition to the proposal, pointing out that FAA has not addressed the impact on VFR operations between Barnstable Municipal Airport, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Memorial Airport. They further noted the common problem of low ceilings and marginal visibility that challenge many low-altitude VFR flights during the busy summer months. The night-time crash of John Kennedy Jr.’s airplane in July 1999 illustrates one of the the hazards of water overflights.
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound sent a 5/22/2012 letter to FAA Acting Administrator Huerta. The letter lays out a lengthy series of email comments by FAA personnel, as extracted from records FAA had produced responsive to a FOIA request. The comments do validate the concern “…that FAA has made decisions based on political factors rather than the recommendations of the pilots, who use this airspace every day, thereby, failing to discharge FAA’s statutory safety-first mandate.”
When this letter (and other records) was shared with members of Congress, it generated an 8/8/2012 letter to President Obama, signed by Chairman Darrell Issa of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. This, of course, was sent during the heat of a presidential election campaign. There was (and remains) ample room for politics on both sides of this issue … and at all corners of our ever-expanding political spectrum.
This is not a typical case about an excessive airport expansion being driven by free FAA money, with one or two people profiting while hundreds feel the impact. Nor is it a case about FAA failure to provide oversight of an unsafe or environmentally impactful aviation business. Rather, this is a case where the authority of FAA is improperly used; a case where concerns by individual citizens are diminished, where civic process is undermined politically, to produce a different outcome. It is promising that FAA officials disclosed some meaningful records to the FOIA process (instead of the typical practice of redacting everything). But, to best serve the Public, FAA needs to strive for consistency and total transparency.
A blog on the issue, by an NPR reporter for radio station WCAI,
serving the Nantucket Sound area.
2/23/12 AOPA blog posting
8/16/12 Boston Globe article