SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


The waffle-stompers' windmills


March 28, 2006

MASHPEE, Mass. - For weeks now, journalists across America have been scratching their heads about out why the east end of Alaska Congressman Don Young's infamous "bridge to nowhere" appears to be ending up in Massachusetts's Nantucket Sound.

Young, a 17-term Republican, recently hit the national news because of his request for $223 million in federal funds to build a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska, across the water to lovely Gravina Island, population about 50. Lawmakers, thankfully, balked.

However, Young, a silverback reminiscent of crotchety and vindictive old Sen. Seabright B. Cooley in Allen Drury's 1959 novel "Advise and Consent," will probably not give up on trying to obtain money for the span, not to mention innumerable other projects for America's pork-rich Last Frontier.

But meanwhile, Young has turned his attention across the continent to Ted Kennedy land: beautiful Nantucket Sound. In question is the proposal by Cape Wind Associates to build a 130-turbine, 468-megawatt wind-power project on a shoal in the middle of what has become for Cape Wind a Devil's Triangle - the sides being the rich southern coast of Cape Cod, the richer island of Martha's Vineyard, and the even richer island of Nantucket.

For months, Young has been trying to get an amendment attached to a Coast Guard funding bill to prohibit offshore wind turbines within 1-1/2 miles of a shipping channel or ferry route. This seems strange. Offshore oil- and gas-drilling platforms can be within 500 feet of such a route.

In an effort to compromise, lawmakers have been batting around Young's amendment language like kittens with a ball of yarn. But reportedly nothing short of stopping Cape Wind will make Young happy.

What journalists can't figure out is: Why does Young care? Given that Ted Kennedy helped lead the fight to prevent oil from being drilled in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - drilling that Young devotedly wishes to commence ASAP - and given that Kennedy loathes the wind-farm proposal, shouldn't Young be trying to force the turbines down Kennedy's gullet?

Life, alas, is rarely simple. The press corps's attention first turned to Washington lobbyist Guy Martin. In the early summer of 2002, Martin was a main act at an anti-wind-farm strategy meeting at the Wianno Club, a snobby yachtsmen's watering hole on the Cape's southern shoreline that would face the proposed windmills. Retired Phelps Dodge CEO Douglas Yearley, then emerging as the leader of the anti-Cape Wind forces, rallied his impressively affluent, if traumatized, troops by introducing Martin. "Guy," said Yearley, "give us the benefit of your wisdom from Washington."

Martin told the anxious audience that he had been very much involved in energy issues - in particular, in oil and gas leasing. Martin had also worked as a lobbyist for the Alaskan pipeline in the 1970s.

"This project has what in Washington, D.C., we call traction," Martin said, somewhat menacingly. "There are people in Washington who wouldn't mind seeing this project succeed."

Martin has been involved with anti-Cape Wind forces ever since. Some in the press corps initially thought that Young's opposition could be traced to Martin, who has done the congressman favors in the past. But others dismiss the idea that Martin would have that much influence with the powerful congressional veteran.

Next, attention turned to Bill Koch, a sailor and volatile fossil-fuel mogul, who also hates the wind farm. Koch owns property on Oyster Harbors, a gated island near the Wianno that makes the latter look like Skid Row. The wind farm might affect Koch's summer yachting. It would definitely affect the view from his shoreline mansion, at least in very clear weather.

Cape Wind executives recently found some documents that don't look so good for Koch. The papers involve two Washington lobbying firms, Kessler and Associates Business Services and U.S. Strategies. It seems that U.S. Strategies, which has been retained by Koch's energy company, Oxbow Group of Palm Beach (where Koch's main house is), has hired Kessler to lobby for it on wind issues.

This also seems odd. Once again, journalists across the nation are curious: Why would one lobbying firm hire another?

The ways of Washington are wondrous indeed. Anyhow, it might be wise to return to the lessons of that wonderful if wordy "Advise and Consent." In it, powerful Sen. Cooley, past his prime, has come to be motivated more by a lust for revenge than by any larger, public-policy purpose. His umbrage ultimately results in a presidential crisis, world-shaking diplomatic errors and the suicide of a colleague.

Could simple human nature be at work in Nantucket Sound? Young, a large man whose in-your-face politicking recalls Lyndon Johnson's, could also be seen as an angry and bitter silverback who for some reason hates, beyond all reason, the environmental movement. He has reportedly called environmentalists a "self-centered bunch, the waffle-stomping Harvard-graduating intellectual idiots." (What's waffle-stomping?) Environmentalists are also "socialists," who are "not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans."

Young particularly despises the U.S. Forest Service. Well, it seems that a great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, the man who gave us the U.S. Forest Service, gave a speech a decade ago before the Women's National Republican Club that repeatedly chastised Don Young. The gist was that Young and others like him were destroying the Republican Party. And it seems that this very same speaker - Theodore Roosevelt IV, a chip off the old Rough Rider block - is handling, through Lehman Brothers, the financing of the Nantucket Sound windmills.

It seems that when someone up in Alaska asked Young several weeks ago why he cared so deeply about Nantucket Sound, he suggested that the questioner look into who was arranging the financing. Young is said to possess a very strong memory.

Could the Washington warhorse have held up the Coast Guard bill for months just because he didn't get to stomp waffles at Harvard?


Wendy Williams, an occasional contributor, is a Cape Cod-based science writer who is writing a history of the Cape Wind saga, to be published next spring by PublicAffairs.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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