Cape Wind buoyed by district judge’s ruling

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A federal judge threw out most of the challenges to a proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, but sent two findings on birds and whales back to federal agencies for further action.

"Today's decision was very strong," Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers told the Cape Cod Times on Friday about the judge’s ruling on challenges to the Department of the Interior’s approval of the project.

The decisions allow the company to move forward with financing the project, which is estimated to cost $2.6 billion.

In his 88-page opinion, Judge Reggie Walton of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found in favor of the Interior Department and Cape Wind on the majority of the arguments that project opponents made.

The opponents include the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the town of Barnstable and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. The arguments were part of four lawsuits that had been consolidated into one case.

"Judge Walton rejected a long list of legal claims project opponents had raised, including arguments over navigational safety, alternative locations, alternative technologies, historic preservation, Native American artifacts, sea turtles and the adequacy of the project's environmental impact statement and biological opinions," Cape Wind officials said in a statement.

The Interior Department approved the 130-turbine wind farm in 2010 after almost a decade of review, ruling that the effects of the project would be mostly minor.

Opponents have argued that approval of the project was rushed, influenced by political pressure and that it violated the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Birds Treaty Act and other federal laws.

After the judge's decision was issued Friday, the project's primary opposition group saw victory in the part of the ruling that said federal agencies must re-examine findings related to whales and birds.

“We won on the environmental violations and it's a major setback for Cape Wind," alliance president Audra Parker told the Cape Cod Times. "The court has sided with us in acknowledging that the federal agencies have violated major environmental laws.”