Featured Letter: Protect the seascape
This letter was sent to the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and copied to the Block Island Times:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I write to oppose the Deepwater application.
My family has been on Block Island continuously since 1817. Generations of Lewises across the decades were not only farmers and fishermen but also community leaders. That holds through today. I grew up year round on Block Island, attended Block Island School from 1st grade through 12th grade (there was no kindergarten in the 1950s), and although my career is on the mainland, Block Island has been, is, and always will be, my home.
I oppose the Deepwater application on numerous grounds. I know that you are receiving significant comment in opposition on various points and, in the interest of brevity, and given that I have been fully engaged on the breadth and depth of those points, I add my opposition on those points by proxy.
Accordingly I will focus my comments to the detrimental impacts of the Deepwater application on the precious natural seascape, and to the intersection of that resource with the land-based historic resources of Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs, including Southeast Light, which is listed on the National Historic Register.
Unfortunately, protection of seascapes is generally outside the boundaries of traditional regulatory process. It is highly subjective. Seascapes do not benefit from local, state and federal regulatory processes that ensure suitable ongoing protections, in contrast to endangered and threatened species, land sites with historic or cultural significance, and similarly characterized physical structures like Southeast Light or First Baptist Church in America. That doesn’t mean seascapes are not important, nor immune from risk. Seascapes are an integral part of our national, state, and local, cultural and natural resource heritage. They should be recognized as such, and not be in play for development risk.
One of the irreplaceable features of many outward-looking seascapes is that when one looks, one sees something that predates history; one sees an expansive view to an open horizon that has looked just the same for longer than man can contemplate. Yes, man does intrude as ships, boats, planes, whales, birds, sunrises, sunsets, and storms come over the horizon into view, and then depart from view leaving the seascape just as it was. This is how it should be. Only the arrogance of man allows him to choose a point in time to say, “Here and now, I have the right to permanently alter the way something has always been, into something else of my choosing.”
Three illustrations are helpful.
In my youth, looking eastward on dark, clear winter nights from the Block Island house in which I grew up, I could see Gay Head light on Martha’s Vineyard; a distance beyond the horizon’s curve but visible thanks to the dark night and the elevation of Gay Head and the height of the tower. That sight is now lost as light from other sources diffuses through the night sky.
As a community, Block Island has taken important steps to protect its cultural and natural resource heritage. Its efforts in open space and land viewshed protection are well documented. Less well-known is that in December 2000, Block Island amended its zoning ordinance to include control of outdoor lighting, for purposes “including the ability to view the stars against a dark sky”.
In June 2012, Charlestown, Rhode Island unanimously voted an outdoor lighting ordinance for similar reasons.
The contrast between these illustrations is that local control did what it could to protect cultural and natural resource heritage threatened from within its municipal boundaries but negative impacts from outside those boundaries require awareness, sensitivity and ultimately, good regulatory process at the state and federal level.
Today when I stand on Mohegan Bluffs and look seaward to the south, southeast, and east, the seascape is unbroken to the horizon. Beyond the horizon is nothing, absolutely nothing, for thousands of miles; and it has been this way for time immemorial. Some things are sacred; i.e., they are entitled to reverence and respect. This seascape is sacred.
Tomorrow? The Deepwater application suggests how the turbines may look with the use of visuals. But neither the Coast Guard nor the FAA has weighed in with their lighting requirements? Shouldn’t those be known before the full impact on a sacred seascape can be evaluated? Regardless of the Coast Guard and FAA, should these turbines even be put there? Why not 25 miles over the horizon?
Why does the Deepwater application have to be built right there within a sacred seascape? For years now Deepwater has driven their dialogue with the argument that it needs an inshore demonstration project. But demonstration of what? They have never reconciled their reasons with their own website, where they cite what they see as “The Opportunity.” See following citation, underlined emphasis is mine:
Deepwater Wind has a solution. Using offshore platform technology proven in the oil and gas industry, we’re able to build wind farms in deep ocean waters many miles offshore, where they are virtually invisible from land. Without visual impact issues, the wind farms can be very large in scale …
Deepwater Wind has the proven technology, financial resources, relationships with manufacturers, and the dedication required to make offshore wind in the U.S. a reality. … .
… Deepwater Wind can build wind farms 20 miles offshore, making them virtually invisible to coastal communities. For the first time in our nation’s history, we will create abundant energy without harming the environment or degrading the beauty of our natural landscapes.
— http://dwwind.com/about/the-opportunity as of 1/27/2013
So who is looking out for this sacred seascape? Who will protect it from the arrogance of man?
I ask that you take a stand for this sacred seascape by denying the Deepwater application, or suspend your review pending a full environmental impact statement or other independent analysis of the seascape issue.