Alliance seeks federal Landmark status for Nantucket Sound
The Barnstable Patriot
HYANNIS – The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has a new look and a new mission as it prepares to seek Congressional approval to designate Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark.
Founded nearly 20 years ago to halt construction of the Cape Wind project in the middle of Nantucket Sound, the Alliance has recently launched a public campaign to call attention to the degradation of water quality and other environmental threats to the Sound, particularly its middle that is under federal jurisdiction and doesn’t have the same protections as the state waters that surround it.
The Alliance is currently airing television commercials on Cape and Islands Comcast stations highlighting the environmental, cultural and economic importance of Nantucket Sound. It has also launched a new website at saveoursound.org. Visitors to the website can sign an online petition in support of the designation.
“Nantucket Sound is one of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems in the United States with significant natural and historic resources,” said Audra Parker, CEO and president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “Despite its importance to the region, the Sound lacks the type of meaningful protections that apply to other bodies of water in the region and throughout the country,” said Parker.
Parker noted that the decision to pursue designation of Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark versus other types of marine protection was to specifically protect existing uses such as commercial fishing.
The public awareness campaign includes television ads now running throughout the Cape and Islands. Featured in those ads are Wendy Northcross, President of the John F. Kennedy Museum and former CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce; George “Chuckie” Green of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; C. Randall Sherman, President of the Cape Cod Salties Sportfishing Club; and Dr. Brian Howes, Professor and Director of the School of Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
The Alliance now has the support of more than 80 environmental, preservation and cultural organizations, including many of the Cape and Island towns that face the Sound.
The effort has taken on more urgency as groundwater contamination and excessive nitrogen have degraded water quality throughout the Cape and Islands ecosystem, including Nantucket Sound, said Howes, who has consulted on water quality issues on the Cape for more than 30 years.
“The urgency is that we have to take action to fix these resources now because we should have fixed them 30 years ago, and we knew it 30 years ago and didn’t act,” said Howes.
The federal legislation would designate Nantucket Sound a National Historic Landmark to recognize its historic, environmental, and economic values. It would also ensure that federal waters in the center of Nantucket Sound have the same protections as state waters that extend three miles from the shores of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The bill would also provide significant environmental protections to address diminished water quality, coastal erosion, habitat degradation, and other climate change effects that are becoming more common in the Sound.
George “Chuckie” Green of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, said he has seen the degradation of water quality and the decline in shellfish stocks over the years, in part due to contamination and the demand on the resources. “It used to be you could just go out and get clams and quahogs or scallops, but that isn’t how it is anymore,” said Green, who served as the historic preservation and natural resources director for the tribe.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) recently passed a resolution in support of the permanent preservation and protection of Nantucket Sound as a sacred site.
“This Resolution and the effort by a broad coalition of native and non-native people to protect this sacred place in perpetuity honors not only the traditions and cultures of the Wampanoag tribes, but also those of all people who treasure Nantucket Sound,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Brian Weeden.
Many other bodies of water in the region enjoy various protections under state or federal law. All of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay, for example, are part of the state ocean sanctuary system and are protected under the Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Act. Buzzards Bay is also one of 28 bodies of water that belong to the National Estuary Program as are Massachusetts Bay, Narragansett Bay, Long Island Sound. Waquoit Bay is part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. State waters in Nantucket Sound are protected, but that protection doesn’t extend into the Sound’s federal waters.
The Nantucket Sound National Historic Landmark Act would not affect any current laws or regulations governing fishing, marine navigation, or transportation and would support appropriately sited renewable energy projects such as tidal and wave energy. The proposed bill would also encourage development of comprehensive plans and programs within the Sound facing towns to support water quality initiatives, especially in estuaries that feed into Nantucket Sound.