HARWICH — Selectmen Monday became the ninth town abutting Nantucket Sound to cast support for federal legislation seeking to establish Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark.
The legislation is being sought by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the non-profit organization that fought and succeeded in pulling the plug on the Cape Wind project, which sought to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, was before selectmen seeking the board's support for the federal legislation. She told selectmen eight of the 11 towns facing Nantucket Sound on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have voted to support the legislation. Harwich was the ninth, and she will be meeting with the remaining two communities in the near future. Chatham has not yet addressed the request.
There are two National Historic Landmarks in the region: Nantucket and the Kennedy Compound. The designation would raise the level of protection for Nantucket Sound, Parker told selectmen, adding that the Cape and Islands and Nantucket Sound are an integral part of the maritime history of the country.
She said the legislation is two-fold: preserving Nantucket Sound's rich cultural and tribal heritage, its unique historic features and maritime history, including the role of the fishing industry; and promoting tourism and the regional economy associated with the historic and cultural attributes.
It would also prohibit the federal government from leasing, permitting or otherwise authorizing, funding or carrying out any energy generation project or facility within Nantucket Sound. Parker said the state of Massachusetts has protection three miles out into Nantucket Sound under the Ocean Sanctuary Act approved in 1971. This will provide federal protection between the limit of state and federal waters to protect all of Nantucket Sound, Parker said.
Stakeholders letter have been sent to Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congressman William Keating, she said, urging them to introduce and support the federal legislation. The letter is signed by 45 groups, including the towns, chambers of commerce, conservancy groups and a number of boating and fishing organizations. There is a separate letter of support from Gov. Charlie Baker, Parker added.
That letter reads: “Nantucket Sound and its historic, environmental, wildlife and cultural resources are of great importance to the regional economy –supporting commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, marine transportation, aviation, maritime trades and other businesses and industries that are vital to the Cape and Islands.”
Selectman Ed McManus said he had one concern when he first heard about the legislation regarding the prohibition of transmission lines from offshore energy generation projects. McManus said he is glad to hear there is no such prohibition in the proposed legislation.
Parker said there are provisions in the legislation specifically allowing cable installations. The legislation allows installation and operation of subsea cable on or below the seabed that transmits electricity to or from an upland area or an offshore renewable energy project located more than 10 miles from any inhabited area.
Selectman Donald Howell wanted to know if there is an agency that determines what type of industrial operations are allowed and not allowed. Parker said the legislation addresses energy generation projects, which includes oil and gas extractions, offshore wind projects and unanticipated technologies.
She said the legislation will not impact those offshore wind projects considered outside of Nantucket Sound. Parker said Vineyard Wind's Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens signed the stakeholders letter to the congressional delegation supporting the introduction of the legislation.
Selectman Larry Ballantine said he supported the proposal to protect and preserve Nantucket Sound, but the permanent prohibitions it contains makes him a “little nervous.” He asked what would happen if someone comes up with a crazy idea that generates energy with no environmental impact.
Parker said provisions exclude Muskeget Channel from the prohibitions because it is one location where there might be the potential for wave energy generation.
McManus also said the legislation would be approved by one legislature and a future legislature could amend it. Selectmen voted to support the Nantucket Sound National Historic Landmark Act bill unanimously.