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Some puzzled by Alaskans' opposition to wind farm
McClatchy Newspapers


May 04, 2006

WASHINGTON -- First it was Alaska Congressman Don Young who was blocking a giant wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. Now it's an amendment by Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, that is standing in the way of the nation's first offshore wind project.

What is it, the wind farm advocates wonder, about Alaskans and this project in Cape Cod?

"You have to ask, 'What's in it for Alaska?' " said Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind Associates. The company wants to erect 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound. Each, the opponents like to point out, would be taller than the Statue of Liberty.




Young has said he's concerned about hazards to navigation. Last winter he added a section to a Coast Guard bill that would have required a 1.5-mile buffer between offshore wind towers and shipping lanes. That would have effectively killed the project, said Jim Gordon, the president of Cape Wind.

The bill then went to a House-Senate negotiating committee, which, as it happens, was chaired by both Stevens and Young. Young's buffer didn't survive, but Stevens inserted an amendment giving the Massachusetts governor veto power over the wind farm. That's also tantamount to killing the project, Gordon said, since Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to do everything in his power to stop it.

The proposed wind farm is intensely controversial in Massachusetts. It would be within sight of Martha's Vineyard and other beloved summer vacation communities. Its advocates say Sen. Ted Kennedy and other rich homeowners there just don't want their view spoiled. Project opponents talk about protecting the marine environment and navigation as well as the "aesthetic pollution" of all those huge wind turbines.

Polling shows Massachusetts residents outside Cape Cod overwhelmingly support the wind farm, but on the Cape the opposition is much stronger. More than 60 percent of Nantucket residents opposed it in a recent nonbinding vote.

Cape Wind, several national environmental groups and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers say they are going to fight what they're calling "the Stevens amendment" with all their might. The bill must still be approved by both House and Senate.

The IBEW local 103 in Massachusetts is particularly supportive of the wind farm, which Cape Wind has agreed would be subject to a project labor agreement, a preliminary collective bargaining contract. Outside the IBEW hall south of Boston, next to a freeway, the union has its own wind turbine and an electric sign that has been flashing "Stop the Alaskan Ambush" at drivers on the adjacent freeway.

Speculation about why the two Alaska Republicans even care about a Cape Cod project runs rampant among fans of the wind farm.

Stevens has said he added veto power for the governor because Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., asked him to, and because he believes states should determine what happens off their shores.

"Sen. Stevens was approached by Sen. Kennedy and, on the merits of his argument, agreed," said Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders.

But Stevens and Kennedy aren't usually allies, wind advocates note. Kennedy, one of the nation's most prominent Democrats, passionately opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Stevens has been working to open for more than 25 years. Suggesting a senator might cooperate with Ted Kennedy, as television ads did in Alaska's most recent Senate race, amounts to negative campaigning in that state.

Young told reporters in Anchorage that it was the Coast Guard that first raised the issue with him, and he's concerned that the wind turbines might threaten navigation.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Angela McCardle said the Coast Guard never asked for the buffer zone that Young's bill required.

"We prefer to look at it on a case-by-case basis and not just use 1.5 miles" as a mandatory distance, she said.

Cape Wind supporters have had lots of theories, several concerning lobbyists that are said to have pull with Stevens or Young. Some, for example, wondered if a lobbyist working for the wind farm opponents, a man whose last name was Young, was Don Young's son.

Don Young has no sons.

Another theory centers on the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Ted Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers and a board member of The Wilderness Society, exasperated Stevens last year when he and Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of another Republic president, came to the Capitol to oppose drilling in ANWR.

"I really am very, very disturbed," Stevens said at the time.

Roosevelt has been a vocal supporter of Cape Wind for several years, even though he owns a house on Martha's Vineyard that overlooks Nantucket Sound. Lehman Brothers is a financial adviser to the project, he said.


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Ketchikan, Alaska