Wrong winded

It grieves me no end, as journalist-sailor, to have to disagree with old salt Walter Cronkite. However, his stance against the proposed Cape Cod wind farm is off course.

The controversial "farm" proposed by Boston-based Cape Wind Associates is the smallest of several proposed along the eastern seaboard and would place 130 windmills on a publicly owned shoal in the waters of Nantucket Sound.

This is a clean, environmentally friendly, abundant, virtually untapped American energy resource. Farms are also proposed off Maryland (858 turbines) and off Virginia's coast (271 turbines) where the poorest state district, Southampton, is begging for them to be located nearer to shore so as to benefit from the revenues and jobs. Long Island, N.Y. is said to be next.

Residents of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard - where Mr. Cronkite lives - have raised the following concerns: The landscape would be ruined; the windmills would hinder the navigation of marine mammals that frequent the area; birds would be butchered by the spinning blades; the annual Hyannis-to-Nantucket regatta would suffer; and the windmills, if damaged in a storm, would leak gear oil into the pristine waters.

As one who honeymooned on Cape Cod and spent every childhood summer there, I can see the sadness of losing the view as we all know it. That would be a hard adjustment. But I'd find that a lesser sacrifice in the name of energy than the views I'd most love to sacrifice: Those of flag-draped caskets coming home from oil-rich countries upon which we so desperately depend, or those of the torn bodies of Iraqi children blown up by leftover munitions. My fuel bills for the house aren't a pretty sight, either.

Having lived aboard a sailboat for five years, I, too, was concerned about obstacles the turbines could create. But they'd be on a shoal - a shallow area marked on every chart and global positioning system and generally avoided anyway. Even mapless marine mammals bounce their sonar off the shallows andnavigate around them. If they didn't, CNN would be there daily, beaming us the rescue efforts to save the stranded marine mammals.

Chopped birds are the next worry. OK, that's bad. Would these be the seagulls and terns that so many dock owners spend hundreds of dollars trying to fend off with everything from spiked piling caps for docks to fake owls? Just checking. While I care deeply about birds, I don't think this is a serious concern.I wonder how the Netherlands handles it. Perhaps somebody ought to find out.

That leaves us with peeved yachtiefolk who'd rather be in an oil race than alter the course of a boat race. I understand the value of local and maritime tradition - it pains me to stand against one. Yet it pains me more to see oil spills that kill sea creatures and birds, and spent nuclear rods and chemicals that bleed disaster into our environment. And I can't afford to heat my home, drive my car, or pay off the oil wars with my taxes.

Perhaps the only serious damage this project has done is to engender the wrongheaded wrath of two usually environmentally friendly icons: Cronkite and the Kennedy family, who also oppose this project. Opposition to the development of this resource appears to be more rooted in a disrupted view and lifestyle than the nobler causes those people have always supported.

The tradition in danger here isn't a regatta or a view, but the character of the area that rests with its highest-profile citizens. If that's the case, perhaps Cronkite needs to go out on Wyntje (his sailboat) with the Kennedys on a soul-searching cruise. They could reflect on the Alaskan refuge in danger of being drilled, the horrors of war, the economic crisis, and the environmental rape and pillage that other forms of energy create.

Maybe they'd prefer to take a powerboat cruise instead. In that case, I'd caution them to note how much fuel their engines use. Even sailboats eat and excrete fuel, leaving residue in the waters. I've yet to find more than a handful of sailors who'd dare to navigate those New England coastal waters without an engine at the ready for inlets, docking, and becalmed seas. Regattas involve chase boats and party boats, usually of the power variety, that leave their engines' fuel-befouled cooling waters behind.

When we lived aboard, we'd marvel at how much of a slick some boats - even sailboats - can leave in their wake if oil or fuel spilled in the bilge was pumped out. We comforted ourselves with the thought that we used ours sparingly, causing no more harm than a motor vehicle leaving a trace in a parking space.

But the panic over a windmill's potential to leak a trace amount of gear oil in the event that one is damaged is just plain bunk. If you boat, you know you have already scattered far more than that in your leisurely travels and regatta courses. These are just drops in the ocean, but they serve to clarify that the Sound already suffers some "industrial" impact from the very people complaining about windmills, which are comparatively pristine beasts.

Losing your view is a hard thing. Losing your insight and vision is far more damaging.

Lisa Suhay is a freelance writer.

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