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Cape Wind plans to buy Falmouth marina as operations base

FALMOUTH — Cape Wind said Thursday that it will purchase a Falmouth marina to serve as the base of operations for its offshore wind farm, a powerful signal that the controversial project could soon start construction after a decade of verbal wrangling and regulatory review.

The announcement was made as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the main opposition group, filed suit in federal court this week challenging a recent Federal Aviation Administration decision that Cape Wind would not interfere with air traffic. The alliance said the FAA is ignoring public safety.

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The separate developments underscore both the increasing optimism of developers and the persistent determination of opponents to stop 130 wind turbines from being built in Nantucket Sound.

East Marine on Falmouth Harbor will serve as the maintenance hub for the turbines once they are built, according to Cape Wind, which said it signed a purchase and sales agreement with the marina this week. The company plans on hiring 50 people, most from the local area. The final sale of the marina will only occur if the project ­receives financing to build the more than $2.5 billion project.

“This requires a vision and a willingness to take a risk to make this happen,’’ said Jim ­Gordon, president of Cape Wind. “We want to show the financial commitment for the operations and maintenance side. . . . We have a lot of confidence we will finance this project.”

Cape Wind has made a ­series of investments lately, includ­ing geological testing in the 25-square-mile Nantucket Sound site in preparation for construction. Gordon, who would not reveal the price of the marina, said he expects to close on financing for the turbine project by the second quarter of next year, start construction in 2014, and begin spinning the 440-foot tall turbines in 2015.

The company has guaranteed sales for power only from 101 turbines, but Gordon saidthat “in the end” he intends to build all 130 proposed turbines. He confirmed Thursday that so far, he has spent more than $50 million attempting to get the wind farm built.

While the company will use New Bedford as a staging area for the wind farm’s construction, the Falmouth location will be used as a permanent headquarters once the wind farm is operational.

“For us, it’s all about jobs,’’ said Jay Zavala, president of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce. “It further diversifies Falmouth’s economic base by getting into the offshore clean energy sector. . . . This is just the beginning.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound lashed out at the project, saying the FAA’s recent decision was politically motivated and overlooked “obvious safety hazards.”

The potential danger presented to aircraft by the 440-foot turbines was long a concern of wind farm opponents, but it became a central focus of their campaign as the project received a series of other government approvals.

An earlier determination by the FAA that the turbines did not present a hazard was overturned last year by the US Court of Appeals, which said the agency failed to adequately ­review how difficult it could be for pilots to navigate over 25 square miles of wind turbines.

That court decision triggered another federal review, which again concluded that Cape Wind would not interfere with planes.

“The FAA ruling shows a complete and utter disregard for public safety,” said Audra Parker, president of the alliance. “Cape Wind would place 130 massive turbines, each over 40 stories tall, in the heart of Nantucket Sound. It’s abundantly clear to virtually everyone outside of the FAA that it poses serious safety risks to the flying public.”

Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, called the lawsuit “not surprising,” saying the FAA “was very clear in laying out what their guidelines are and how it led them to the ­determination.”

Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globebethdaley.
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