BY TIMOTHY C. BARMANN
Providence Journal Staff Writer
FALMOUTH, MASS. — There’s no substitute for seeing it firsthand, and thus, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee boarded a 40-foot fishing boat yesterday morning and headed out to sea.
His destination: the site where the proposed Cape Wind electricity-producing project would be built, on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.
“When you’re having a discussion about an issue, there’s no substitute for saying ‘I’ve been there,’ ” Chafee said.
The Rhode Island senator said he wanted to see where the controversial project would be located in relation to nearby Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod. He was accompanied by two Cape Wind representatives.
Chafee has already voiced his support for the project.
Cape Wind Associates has proposed building a 130-turbine offshore wind farm that could produce up to 420 megawatts of electricity. The developers say it could supply an average of three-fourths of the power needed for the Cape and islands.
The project has been undergoing regulatory reviews for the past five years and is expected to take at least another year, according to Cape Wind.
Polls show that the project is widely supported by most residents of Massachusetts, according to Cape Wind. But the project has also garnered a number of powerful opponents who don’t want the pristine waters of Nantucket Sound disturbed by a private developer’s giant wind turbines. The opponents include Governor Romney, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.
That opposition has led to a bill pending in Congress that would essentially kill the project. The measure would give the governor of Massachusetts the power to veto the Cape Wind project for any reason.
That provision was attached by amendment to an unrelated bill that appropriates funding for the U.S. Coast Guard. It was supported by Kennedy, who has become one of the most vocal opponents of the project.
(Kennedy has reportedly softened his stance on the amendment. His office said he would support the commandant of the Coast Guard having the power to veto the project instead of the governor.)
On Nantucket Sound yesterday, Chafee gripped the railing aboard the Minuteman, the fishing boat chartered by Cape Wind to bring Chafee to the project site.
Choppy seas made moving about the boat a risky proposition. Wind gusts kicked up salty spray on the passengers. After a 50-minute ride from Falmouth Harbor, the boat finally arrived at the site, 5 miles out to sea. The fog had lifted for the moment, but land was not visible.
The boat pulled along side Cape Wind’s avian research barge, which has been sitting above the water, held up by 3 huge jacks.
Barge operators have been scanning the skies over the past six weeks with radar to study the spring migration of birds over the site. The boat rocked wildly at times, and the captain turned down Chafee’s request to board the barge.
Then the boat motored past a nearby meteorological tower that has been gathering weather and ocean conditions for the past two years. The 200-foot tower is nearly as tall as one of the wind turbine structures, not including the blades.
Afterward, Chafee said the trip helped him gauge the “visual pollution” that opponents have raised as a main concern.
Chafee said he didn’t see that as much of an issue.
“To be honest, if the opponents came on a trip like this, I can’t see how their opposition could be justified,” he said.
He said he did want to learn more about the impact the wind turbines could have on radar. Some opponents have cited studies that conclude that the spinning blades could interfere with radar systems, which could create navigational problems for boats and planes in the area.
As a sailor himself, Chafee said he wouldn’t view the wind tower turbines as a danger on the water. He said he owns a 24-foot sailboat and is planning a trip to Nantucket.
Because the area of the proposed site is in shallow water, boaters avoid it. “I don’t think you want to go too close to the shoals anyway,” he said. “In some cases, it’s just two feet.”
Chafee said he hasn’t studied the compromise Kennedy has suggested. But he said he is “leery” of giving one person the power to kill the project.