Thursday, June 24, 2010

Preservation Weekly


Preservation vs. Progress

- Merribel McKeever

The recent approval of the wind farm in Nantucket Sound has this preservationist divided on the issue. The proposal has been in the works for about nine years and has faced serious objections by preservationists and homeowners alike. To environmentalists a wind farm sounds long overdue especially with the devastating oil spill gushing 50,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet sometimes, simple solutions are filled with complexities.

The National Trust has already written a blog about the Nantucket Sound case lamenting the situation in which preservationists found themselves. Nine years ago the company Cape Wind proposed to build a wind farm of 130 turbines to be placed in the shallow waters off of Nantucket Sound. Two prominent issues became a concern with preservationists. The first, an obstructed view from the historic districts surrounding the proposed area. Preservationists claimed it would destroy the historical context of the historic houses in the district. The other concern was two Native Americans tribes who live in the area. They perform sun rituals on the beaches of Nantucket Sound and the wind farm would be detrimental to their practices. Additionally, the shallow waters where the bases of the turbines would be built was once exposed land where the tribes resided holding all kinds of archaeological treasures. Any preservationist would pause and reflect in light of these issues.

Yet here we have a proposal for the first ever offshore wind farm in the United States- an important first step in realizing alternative energy sources. Environmentalists have been on board with alternative energy for years but the recent oil spill has brought it to the forefront for all Americans. The utter devastation to the areas in the gulf makes the idea of wind farms a no-brainer.

I find myself divided on the Nantucket Sound decision. I wish Cape Wind had looked harder at moving the farm to another area but again I understand that the high winds in the area are perfect for capturing the most wind. Consequently, other states now have proposed farms in the works and had the proposal been denied a precedent to reject other wind farms in others areas based on the same conditions of a ruined view-scape would stand.

While it’s important to protect what remains of our history to the best of our ability it is also important to remember that progress is inevitable and that we can only mitigate the effects. Cape Wind has agreed to a smaller number of turbines and to paint them a light color. They also claim that from the surrounding beaches the turbines will only appear a couple of inches above the horizon. We have learned to live with the skyline of a city in the background of an historic district and even come to view it as part of its history. Can’t a wind farm find its place as well?

Merribel McKeever is a graduate student at Georgia State University in the Heritage Preservation program. She joined The Georgia Trust this summer as a Graduate Research Assistant working closely with the Endangered Properties Program and contributing widely to the Preservation Department. Look for regular blog posts from Merribel about interesting preservation issues.


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