Chris Perry Column: Your Assignment Is Incomplete

Chris Perry •

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A tugboat carrying Vineyard Wind's first assembled turbine squeezed through the New Bedford hurricane barrier opening in late 2023. Photo courtesy of Vineyard Wind

Time is a precious thing…

And luckily for them, Cultural Heritage Partners bought some last week. Perhaps, they were eavesdropping. Maybe it was a coincidence. But since my previous Current column (N.I.O.B.Y.) a couple of weeks ago, Cultural Heritage has been busy.

Recently, they resurfaced at a Select Board meeting. As Nantucket’s special legal counsel for offshore wind regulatory compliance, Greg Werkheiser - one of the founding partners of Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC - briefly addressed the Board.

Interestingly enough, Werkheiser admitted that the public was paying greater attention to this matter and he felt it was important to improve the public’s “level of confidence” and turn from a “passive to an active messaging approach…”

With that in mind, Werkheiser submitted a draft Op-Ed piece for the Select Board’s review. Within a few days and with the Select Board’s blessing, the final Op-Ed piece was released and appeared in the Current last Monday.

On one side of the coin, you had the Whirlpool spin cycle in full gear. References to raising families on Nantucket, the island’s unique character, creating precious memories, Nantucket’s backbone and spectacular vistas all pulled at our heartstrings as Nantucket was pitted against the billion-dollar companies with us absorbing all the risks.

And, of course, what would an Op-Ed piece be without quoting the words of the National Park Service which recognized that “Nantucket’s unencumbered views of the ocean offer a balm to the soul.”

That’s nice. That’s thick.

On the other side of the coin, the Op-Ed piece provided some very valuable information especially if you are new to the debate. For example, Werkheiser outlines a recent study by Monmouth University and the negative impact on tourism. His piece offered some tidbits of historical data and the role of B.O.E.M. (the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) and the pressure from the federal government. Additionally, he makes references to federal renewable energy goals which is worth digging into, especially for the state of Massachusetts.

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This map depicts the area where Vineyard Wind will be constructed and the undersea cable that will connect the turbines to the mainland.

But more importantly, the Op-Ed piece puts a face to our legal representation and officially brings Cultural Heritage Partners into view. With a home base in Washington, D.C. and generally invisible on-island over the past couple of years, most island residents had no idea Cultural Heritage Partners even existed let alone represented Nantucket in this continuing fight. Nevertheless, with an understanding that Cultural Heritage Partners will keep the Select Board updated and, in turn, the Nantucket community up to speed, one can only hope their continuing presence and future appearances will be a positive sign for Nantucket in its ongoing struggle.

Put the pieces of the coin together and one might consider it a wealth of knowledge and an effective piece.

But did Werkheiser’s Op-Ed move the needle?

After letting things marinate for the past week, I think it is too early to say. If I were to use the commonly accepted Pass / Fail grading system, I would give Cultural Heritage’s Op-Ed piece an “I” for Incomplete. While Werkheiser’s piece did buy Cultural Heritage Partners some time, their job is not done.

Before their next assignment is due, there are some hurdles. What Cultural Heritage now faces with the Nantucket community is a critical test that many have failed. Figuratively speaking, Nantucket has a notorious history of discarding the bodies of many off-island, unsuccessful legal teams, consultants, advisors, facilitators and organizers that were hired to “lead the discussion”. Ultimately, the hiring of these “experts” proved to be woefully ineffective with the end result being a waste of time and money. That is not to say consultants and legal experts are not a viable option at the appropriate time. But unless they have the malleable ability to grasp the unique sense of our community and historic nuances that make us tick, it’s not worth getting on the ferry and coming over to solve our problems.

In my opinion, the most recent case of Nantucket’s frustration took place this past year with Stacie Smith - managing director at the Consensus Building Institute - who was hired by the Town of Nantucket to facilitate the Short-Term Rental Work Group. From day one, it wasn’t a good fit. Despite her experiences with the Dept. of Defense, the EPA and National Park Services, Smith and the Work Group were unable to produce a unanimous consensus of viable recommendations for Town Meeting.

Today, we don’t have to be told who the smartest person is in the room because we already know. Give credit where credit is due and whatever role Cultural Heritage Partners played in removing a handful of the turbines in the front row and requiring less visible paint is well deserved.

But, let’s not get carried away.

At this point, assuming the construction of wind turbines off our shore is a fait accompli, Cultural Heritage needs to look forward - not back. Consequently, I believe the Good Neighbor Agreement is the only realistic place to start as it outlines Nantucket’s contractual obligations for years to come.

Unfortunately, Werkheiser fails to specifically mention the Good Neighbor Agreement anywhere in his Op-Ed piece. This was a mistake, and if Cultural Heritage’s goal was to keep the specifics under wraps, it was a critical mistake The obvious omission of any specific reference to the Good Neighbor Agreement doesn’t shield Nantucket residents from this information. Ironically, this omission now casts a light on it.

The Good Neighbor Agreement was unanimously supported by Nantucket’s Select Board in August of 2020. At that time, I bet our elected official’s “head” thought it was a good idea, especially considering the potential financial rewards for Nantucket. But today, I wonder if our Select Board’s “heart” feels differently due to the optics, some unsettling terms and the realities of the situation.

On the bright side, the Good Neighbor Agreement did establish the Nantucket Offshore Wind Community Fund to “support projects and initiatives related to protecting, restoring and preserving cultural and historic resources, coastal resiliency, climate adaptation, renewable energy and other such areas related to the Parties’ mutual interests.”

Again…. pretty thick but where are the specifics on something that should be championed?

Cultural Heritage Partners had the opportunity to “address” the entire Nantucket community via their Op-Ed piece. Given Nantucket’s historic landmark designation, this agreement is groundbreaking stuff. Millions of dollars are potentially earmarked for Nantucket via this Community Fund. The fact that no financial details were given or specifics on Nantucket’s contractual obligations moving forward under this agreement was a puzzling oversight.

For example:

  • Has this fund been set up?
  • Has Nantucket received any money?
  • If so, where did it go?
  • Does our involvement in the Community Fund require Nantucket to support future offshore projects?
  • As co-signers on this agreement, what did Nantucket Preservation Trust and Maria Mitchell Association receive - if anything - for their signatures and support?

I understand there is very little Nantucket can do about the construction of these wind turbines. Across the board, Nantucketers are feeling helpless and acknowledge that they have little leverage. It’s a sad commentary, but with only the Good Neighbor Agreement to lean on, we just want to know what’s coming next.

I am no marine biologist or environmental expert or energy czar with an agenda. I am just a guy on Nantucket who is starting to get the picture. But what I do know is that if it looks like a turbine and quacks like a turbine and spins like a turbine, it’s an 853-foot wind turbine just south of Cisco Beach.

Cultural Heritage Partners: You bought some time with your Op-Ed piece, and on behalf of the Nantucket community, I thank you for the information. But, your assignment is incomplete. There’s far too much missing and for you to receive a P for Passing and to avoid being just another discarded “consultant” on the side of the road, Nantucket residents deserve more.

I said it once and I will say it again because it makes me feel better:

Fences make great neighbors but wind turbines don’t.

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