Seven years of spirited arguments on Cape proposal have solved little
It is a sign that the discussion has gone on too long when a half-dozen faux oil sheiks stalk into a gymnasium and hardly anyone raises an eyebrow.
Seven years into the debate over the wind farm proposed off the Cape and Islands, the arguments for and against the proposal are excruciatingly familiar: It will either save the planet or kill the Cape, depending on who has the microphone.
But the theatrics grow more gusty all the time.
Before last night’s final public hearing on the most recent government review of the wind plan, no fewer than eight costumed actors from opposing sides of the argument faced off outside Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. On one side were Yachters Against Windmills Now, satirical wind lovers toting chardonnay glasses and wearing captain’s hats to caricature opponents as elitist NIMBY-ites.
On the other side was a troupe of actors who wore fisherman’s gear, a chef’s hat, and a bird costume to represent, respectively, the commercial, tourism, and avian interests they say would be hurt by the wind farm.
The bird, wearing Band-Aids, begged fervently to be saved.
The fake sheiks called themselves Saudis Against Wind and would not reveal their patron or their pay. Their speaker identified himself only as Omar Haddad and said he would testify “about how my shareholders in the oil business are going to be put out” by wind energy.
The plan to build a wind farm in the storied sound between the Cape and Islands has inspired drama since its inception. The developer, Cape Wind, wants to install 130 windmills taller than the Statue of Liberty across a shallow 24-square-mile area about 6 miles off Cape Cod.
To those who oppose the plan, it is nothing short of piracy. And so they hired a pirate.
Inside the UMass center, the real players delivered their impassioned but oft-repeated entreaties.
“Horseshoe Shoals would be destroyed,” said Emily Vanderhoop, a fishing captain and Wampanoag Indian who was the first to offer vehement testimony against the project last night. “Are you really ready to be responsible for destroying an entire community, fishing industry, and wildlife pattern? Industrializing one of the few natural places that we still have doesn’t make sense environmentally.”
Unless you’re an environmentalist who believes that this project portends the potential salvation of the planet through clean energy. “Future generations will view us as either heroes or fools,” Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, said at a hearing on the Cape earlier this week.
At that forum, her group of wind-farm supporters brought four residents of Appalachia to testify in favor of clean energy and to contrast it to the mountaintop removal for coal-burning power plants that has flattened peaks and dirtied streams in their region.
The theatrics have been enlivening the public discussion of the weighty 718-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the federal Minerals Management Service. That agency is the second federal department to dissect the wind farm plan and hold hearings on its potential environmental impacts. Some of the people testifying last night had spoken at the meetings in 2004, as well.
But last night, when the meeting facilitator asked the crowd of 450 for suggestions on the evening’s agenda, someone shouted out: “More polar bears.” (That’s right, there was someone dressed as a polar bear.)
A more serious, less furry participant responded: “Less gimmicks.”
By Stephanie Ebbert
14 March 2008
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