Admiralty lawyers see Cape Wind farm as a navigational menace

All it lacks is a beautiful woman, and the Cape Cod, Mass., wind farm fight would be the Trojan War of environmental disputes. That’s how big it is and how long it’s gone on. Instead of Hector, Achilles and Odysseus, we have Ted Kennedy, Walter Cronkite and industrialist Bill Koch (of Koch brothers fame) all on the same odd-bedfellow team, opposing an alternative energy project that seems to have had the blessings of the administrations of both George W. and Barack H.

I’ve been to a wind farm on land in the Dominican Republic. The experience is unforgettable. The image below cannot convey how massive these things are. One blade is almost half-again as long as the distance from second base to home plate. The hub is the size of a school bus. Standing below the turning blades, you hear a whoooshhh and feel a visceral sense of awe.


Cape Wind wants to plant 130 of these on Horseshoe Shoal, some as close as a quarter-mile apart. The litigation against the project continues and was recently joined for the first time by groups represented by non-environmental lawyers.

Enter Todd Lochner of Annapolis and John Fulweiler of Newport, both admiralty lawyers, representing the Marine Trades Association of Cape Cod and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership. They’ve filed a “friend of the court” motion inserting themselves in an ongoing federal lawsuit against Cape Wind Associates.


Lochner and Fulweiler are the first to articulate a case against the wind farm based on the navigational argument, and they are asking the court to order the Coast Guard, which has already blessed the project, to take another look. “We’re looking at casualties and the real possibility of loss of life,” Lochner says.


Britain’s Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm consists of 88 turbines over a total area of approximately 14 square miles.

I was surprised to learn from their pleading — and it’s a fact that I’ve confirmed — that windmills such as these degrade the effectiveness of radar. I grew up on Cape Cod and have not transited Nantucket Sound in more than 20 years, but I remember the last time I did. We had zero visibility. Thanks to my radar reflector, the Nantucket ferry detected my 28-foot sailboat and steered a U-shaped detour around us. How did I know that in zero visibility? Because the skipper repeatedly sounded his horn during this maneuver. And those were the days before the words “high speed” described any ferry in Cape waters.

Here’s what Lochner and Fulweiler told the judge:

Two vessels traveling at six knots apiece are each closing in on the other at 20.2 feet per second. Incredibly, at 500 feet apart, they will collide in 24.7 seconds! At 1,000 feet apart, they will have approximately 49 seconds before impact. When you include the speed it takes for a fog horn’s sound wave to travel to the other vessel, as well as the time it takes to initiate evasive action, we are talking about a very, very small window of opportunity to avoid a collision — and these are examples run at the very modest speed of six knots, which for many vessels represents bare steerageway.

At the seemingly decent distance of one-half nautical mile (3,038 feet), two vessels approaching each other at 14 knots are closing together so quickly that they will have a mere 64.36 seconds to see each other, sound their fog horns, and take evasive action — all within the confines of a matrix littered with wind turbines affixed atop cement monopiles, shoal waters and other boaters.

Scarily, it begins to sound like a variation of a reduction ad absurdum argument when you calculate the speed of a 30 knot Hi-Line Cruises ferry closing in on a fishing vessel under way at five knots (actual speed paradigms utilized in a radar study supplied to the Coast Guard):

1/2 Nautical Mile — 51.45 seconds to impact

1/4 Nautical Mile — 25.72 seconds to impact

1,000 Feet — 16.93 seconds to impact

500 Feet — 8.46 seconds to impact

The AMICI (Friend of the Court) is unaware of any Coast Guard analysis undertaken to determine whether, in point of fact, application of early 20th century navigational warnings in the vicinity of Nantucket Sound are an adequate alternative to a radar display and the ability to plot radar targets. The only analysis the AMICI is aware of establishes that, indeed, the wind farm impacts radar performance.

The AMICI submit that their back-of-the-napkin calculations make clear that the interaction of vessels within and around the wind farm will be extremely risky and that these risks were never properly treated because the Coast Guard never considered (or refused to consider), among other things, whether adjusting the physical parameters of the wind farm would prove the safest way to [preserve] navigational safety on Nantucket Sound.

Evidence in the court record suggests that on any given summer day, about 40 vessels are plying the waters over and around Horseshoe Shoal. Lochner and Fulweiler are saying that with the Cape Wind farm, those boats will rely on 19th century anti-collision techniques at potentially 21st century speeds, though one would hope under those circumstances everyone would be throttling back.


I repeat these arguments not because I oppose the wind farm. I share them because they should interest mariners, and I have long admired Lochner’s work. Plus, the brief  is about as well written as I have ever seen in a court document (Lochner credits Fulweiler), and as a reporter, I covered the federal courts for years. Click here to see the AMICI brief.

Bottom line: There will be blood.

No doubt.

Planes crash. We tolerate carnage on the highways for an efficient road network, just as we tolerated wrecks and livestock deaths for rail transportation. I suspect the same kind of cost-benefit analysis will prevail here. Danish investors just put the first $200 million down, and the wind farm inches forward.

In which case another literary metaphor pertains. Lochner and Fulweiler may well be the maritime law equivalents of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, tilting at windmills imagined as monsters, though I would not venture to say which of the two is lunatic and which is peasant.

31 thoughts on “Admiralty lawyers see Cape Wind farm as a navigational menace

  1. And all of this, it should be noted, is in the name of so-called anthropogenic global warming. If the compliant media were not so completely committed to this cause (as is apparently the writer of this piece despite the fact that he is panning the project) they would be honestly reporting what true scientists are observing with respect to climate change. One only has to Google the issue to learn that there is much legitimate honest scientific evidence to suggest that we are very likely in the early stages of another period of global cooling––not unlike the little ice age in the early 1700′s. But unfortunately, the so-called environmentalists have been so brain-washed by political correctness they simply refuse to accept that there is any possibility that AGW could be anything but right. If you don’t feel like Googling, here’s a couple of recent articles on this subject that are worth reading.

    • Let’s ignore for a moment that there are always those who will attempt to redefine science in an attempt to counter the 1000′s of studies published in the top journals supporting global warming. Let’s also ignore the people who are unable to distinguish between reality and “Rush Limbaugh” (a function of our miserable system of education… recall that we are ranked near the bottom of all developing countries).

      The point of this article is the wind farm and not how we got ourselves into this predicament. Alas, we will continue to burn fossil fuels, deplete the ozone layer, diminish our supply of fresh water, etc until we reach the tipping point (10 years out?) and then we’ll all wonder what happened. But, not to worry, the people making the anti-warming argument are all old enough that they won’t be here when we lose our ability to mitigate our effect on our planet.

      • Yes, you are correct; this story was about the potential negative impact that this wind farm will have on boating. Yet, the notion of a “wind farm” only exists because of the mass hysteria created by global warming enthusiasts who simply accept what they are told to believe and blindly embrace the notion of “how can so many “scientists” be wrong?”.

        But I think you provide the answer to the problem with your response. You criticize my observation as being not really on-point, declaring that I had essentially drifted off-topic; but then you go on to exclaim the reality and the legitimacy of the global warming hoax by disparaging Rush Limbaugh who, I’m quite confident in saying that you rarely, if ever, have even listened to. Moreover, although you denigrate those who would dare question what so-called “scientists” (almost all academicians at the public trough) have declared to be a “settled” issue. You obviously wouldn’t even bother to read the two articles I attached; or if you did, you were clearly incapable of refuting the substance of them.

        But I guess you can take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone, as they’re are a great many other believers in the AGW hoax who accept what is fed to them, virtually exclusively, from the trusty TV set, or a warmed-over version of the NYT. They tell you when the temperature goes up it’s because of AGW, and you believe them. And when the temperature goes down they say nothing and you’re happy with that. Notice the east coast these days. There’s been less than a week of temps in the 90’s and it might not hit 80 for the next 10 days in DC––and this is mid-August! Yet, not a word about that is being said by your information sources. And when there’s an increase in the number of hurricanes in a given year they tell you it’s because of AGW and you believe them. But when there’s virtually no storms (like this year), they stand silent and you’re okay with that as well.

        Don’t global warming enthusiasts ever think?? I mean even a little bit.

        • Thank you for your attempt at education – always good to have input on all sides, but this is not “And all of this, it should be noted, is in the name of so-called anthropogenic global warming.” While human pollution of our environment is always something to keep our eyes on, the primary drive for alternate energy sources is the indisputable fact that fossil fuel sources are finite. We will go through them all at some point in time.

          • Thank you for what read I as a reasoned admonition as to my suggestion that the wind farm idea is all about AGW. I will admit that at first blush it sounds a bit over the top, but I feel quite confident in saying that what I’ve said is quite sound. And while I am not convinced that fossil fuels will be running out any time soon, I can accept the argument that it is foolhardy to think they will last forever. But with that said, the serious question is why are we looking to wind as the alternative?

            All scientific studies of wind energy acknowledge that it is an incredibly inefficient means for producing energy (the average amount of electricity generated is less than 30% of the theoretical maximum output), but there are so many other reasons not to look to wind as an alternative source, it is clear that we, the citizens, are not thinking and questioning, but merely accepting what we are told to believe. Not everyone fits this criticism, of course, but certainly the vast majority of “greenies” around the world do.

            The obvious alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear, but the environmentalists have all but shut that resource down. Yes, there is a risk, but there is a risk in everything that we do, and common sense would suggest that we seek the best ways to minimize those risks and do all we can to improve the technology. But nuclear aside, a much more efficient source of non-fossil fuel energy is solar. Solyndra and the other rip-off operations aside, the cost of solar collectors is plummeting, while their efficiencies are skyrocketing. Wind energy collectors, on the other hand, are doing the only thing they can really do to collect more energy––get larger, and get much larger.

            You know it’s interesting to learn from the writer of this story that he’s against the wind farm in Cape Cod, because it raises issues that he believes threatens sailing. And, indeed, he could be right. But notice that he didn’t have a whit of a problem with it until it started impacting on his interests. Then he was against. Teddy Kennedy, rest his soul, was one of the greatest champions of the environment that ever sat in the US Senate, but when *that* wind farm came along he thought it was great mistake. Needless to say, he didn’t have any problem with the wind farm off Ocean City Maryland because it didn’t affect him.

            And then there are those who have been fighting to protect the unnecessary destruction of the wildlife, especially the endangered species. I dare say that most of those people would happily be referred to as environmentalists, but when these people learn just how outrageously destructive the wind farms are to our birds, they want to literally blow up the windmills. Read an honest report about the incredible number of birds––endangered species or not––that are slaughtered every day with the windmills and it will bring tears to your eyes, even if you have no interest at all in preserving wildlife.

            So while I agree that we shouldn’t ignore the very reasonable assumption that fossil fuels may not last forever, The alternatives we seek should be common sense based and not agenda driven with little or no concern to its negative impacts.

          • Sorry, Ron, but I accidentally posted my response to you under
            “Harry” above.

  2. Clearly the Marine Trades Association of Cape Cod and the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership haven’t stopped to consider what 130 man made “reefs” are going to do for fish stocks and for their members.

  3. Most of my life has been spent on Cape Cod and on the surrounding waters in both sail and power boats from 12′ to 48′. Horseshoe Shoal was chosen to host this project because there is very little water covering it, none in some places, so it is a navigational hazard itself, and always has been, to be avoided, with or without Cape Wind towers erected on it.

    Shallow draft boats can poke around in there carefully for fishing in good weather, (which should be improved by the towers), but it would be foolhardy to use it as a transitory route in anything other than a kayak.

    Marine navigation requires paying attention and knowing what you are doing, it’s not like driving down the Mid Cape Highway, nor should it be.

    This is a small price to pay to minimize oil imports and begin eliminating cancer causing coal fired and nuclear plants.

    • Thank you for this real-world input! An un-navigable area is not being made more un-navigable. There are benefits to the small fisherman and to the rest of us who use electricity. There is nothing wrong with a mix of renewable and fossil sources. It is the rational, non-ideological, proper approach to our resource needs. As renewables mature, we can cut back on fossil.

  4. If the area is suitable for small boats, it’s probably not windy enough for effective, profitable production of wind energy.

    Windmill installation will benefit the European manufacturer and the domestic installation and maintenance crews, as well as whoever supplies and installs the devices (probably Natural Gas turbines run by fracking-produced Natural Gas) that generate electricity when the wind is not blowing.

    The windmills will not, in any way, make a significant difference in the AGW warming/cooling/”dancing on the head of a pin” models. They are theater.

    • Are you sure the manufacturer is European? Windmills are made right here in the USA. In fact, Tiara (yes, the top drawer boat manufacturer) produces fiberglass wind vanes. Good old Michigan boating ingenuity put to good use.

      • A quick web search shows Tiara is subcontracting for a Spanish company and using targeted tax credits to pay at least part, maybe most, of the bills. Good for them for scooping up greenscam money. Not so good for the rest of us.

  5. Although I have not cruised through this area for many years, I have been on the water most of my 63 years. There are a many of these farms just off the coast of Europe therefore, a study of the potential disaster should be easy to obtain. I reject the argument that we are using 19th century technology for a 21st century problem. Most watercraft today use some variety of modern navigation, especially the ferries that ply these waters. Any boat owner who heads into these waters without up to date charts or a resonable nav system should not be allowed off the dock as he is unprepared for what the sea might present to him/her.

  6. It would be useful to see a chart of where the ‘fans’ will sit and if indeed this is a Shoal area, what size vessels are likely to be affected given the shallow waters. Skipping over the debate regarding global warming, and the depletion of our oil reserves which many foolishly consider unlimited, renewable energy sources including solar and wind are in my opinion great investments in our future. Sailors have navigated around objects(including oil rigs and munitions testing sites) for decades so why should it be so difficult to navigate around a wind farm?

  7. Check out Portsmouth Abby’s real life experience with wind turbines. The maintenance, blade and gearbox replacement made it a wash so they scrapped it. They didn’t even count in the subsidy (cost to the taxpayer) take down and foundation removal cost. How do you do that on a sand bar?

    Also check out “Life with Industrial Windmills in Wisconsin Part 2″ where they declare it a scam benefiting only the installation financiers.

  8. If parts of Horseshoe Shoal are only 6 inches deep and much of it is less than 6 feet deep, how could the mills pose more of a threat to vessel traffic than the earth itself? If anything, they will act as a lighthouse. If offshore wind energy is viable without public subsidies, why not?

    It is great to finally see an article that begins to touch on the real issues of putting Cape Winds 44 story, 26 square mile industrial plant along with its hundreds of miles of high voltage cable in the middle of the rich fishing grounds of Horseshoe Shoal. First of all, only a small part of the wind plant maybe 10% will be on the shoal itself. The rest has depths of 30 to 45 feet. There will also be a 10 story transformer oil platform in the middle of the plant just waiting to release 43000 gallons of toxic oil on the shoals of the Cape and Islands
    As a participant in many of the USCG hearings and calls, I cannot begin to even try to explain the railroading that took place by the interior department including the USCG.
    At one hearing, the USCG owns radar expert could not identify the moving vessels on his own radar study that he created. When the room of licensed captains and retired coast guard began to ask questions, the USCG shut down the hearing even though some participants such as the representative for the passenger vessel association had traveled all the way from DC for the hearings.
    At one of the other USCG calls, the Captain of the Port told the fisherman and mariners participating that “they will have to find another place to fish” It should be noted that almost 70% of all the fish landed in Nantucket Sound is caught within the footprint of the proposed wind plant.
    It should also be noted that there are over 200 days a fog a year in the waters.
    The round stanchions of the wind turbines cause massive side lobe interference to marine radar creating blind spots for 1800 feet to each side of the turbine when set on a 3 mile radius.
    USCG choppers will not be able to come inside the farm to conduct search and rescue missions. We were told by the USCG that they can meet the required minimum 2 hour response time by boat.
    The USCG has not done the research needed, or they have been silenced by the administration that puts the lives of our fisherman and mariners behind the feel good green wave that will only result in the destruction of some of the richest fishing grounds on the east coast so that a private for profit developer can cash in on our subsidies with his foreign partners.
    If this project was looked at under the same guidelines that BOMRE just set up for the new offshore leases, this project would fail in every way.
    Someone will get killed by this project, and when they do, it should rest squarely on the command of the USCG and the Obama administration.

    • How do you know the USCG has not done their job properly? Is it because you disagree with their input?
      Was the discussion shut down because it became no discussion at all by the audience?

  10. The island of Manhattan is filled with 1000s of fixed obstructions to aircraft navigation, but planes manage pretty well, and I think boats off Nantucket can also adjust. Wind farms are not a fad, they’re a modest form of progress.

  11. Pingback: Dealer Outlook » Blog Archive » Coast Guard sued over wind farm off Nantucket

  12. My understanding is that there is no money available to remove these windmills at any time. In this technological age what if a new technology is invented that renders windmills obsolete? No longer economically viable. New power generation systems that are cheaper and more efficient like tidal generation. What do we do with these 130 eyesores?

  13. Despite its potetial environmental impacts, this proposed “wind farm” still seems better than another massive coal-fired power plant…. I don’t see any of the wind farm critics volunteering to help site a new fossil-fuel plant.

  14. Pingback: Cape Wind Project: A Tale of Crony Environmentalism (Part 1) | The Valley Patriot

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