Strange Boatfellows Clash in Nantucket Sound

Special to capecodtoday by Jack Coleman. Story updated 8/19/05

ON THE WATERS OF NANTUCKET SOUND - Even when the subject is not the wind farm, the project has a way of making its presence felt. On a three-hour cruise of Nantucket Sound yesterday for 50 local officials and elected leaders, business people and journalists on the 125-foot schooner Spirit of Massachusetts, attorney and environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. began to describe how the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound is broadening its mission beyond a singular focus of stopping the Cape Wind project.

A Flotilla of Protesters and Supporters

A sailboat carrying members of the Cape-based Clean Power Now group appears alongside the Spirit of Massachusetts schooner to protest yesterday's "Soundkeeper" event just as environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. began his remarks (photo by Jack Coleman)

Back in January, the Alliance was designated a "Soundkeeper" of Nantucket Sound by the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international coalition of environmental groups founded by Kennedy in 1983. "One of the things that all of us have to understand is that we're not protecting the environment for the sake of the fish and the birds," Kennedy said. "We're protecting it for our own sake." Just as Kennedy began speaking, a sloop appeared about 50 yards off the schooner's port side carrying protesters from the Cape-based Clean Power Now. One of the protestors shouted, "Hey Bobby, you're on the wrong boat! ... the best environmentalist money can buy!" Kennedy yelled back, "Well, come over here and listen to what I am saying!" Also turning out to protest were members of Greenpeace in two motorized inflatable dinghies. While it appeared unlikely this meeting of the minds would occur, a Barnstable police boat showed up minutes later and warned the demonstrators keep their distance. After that, the three boats never came within 50 yards of the schooner and the shouted taunts were infrequent.

Alliance Broadens Focus to Include Septic Systems and Ocean Management

A flotilla of fishing boats stream past the Spirit of Massachusetts schooner to show their support for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound during yesterday's "Soundkeeper" sail on the Sound (photo by Jack Coleman)

The exchange was an example of the difficulties faced by the Alliance as it tries to widen its orientation beyond efforts to keep the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, potentially the first offshore wind farm in the US, from getting built. The Soundkeeper designation is not the only change afoot in the organization. In the spring the Alliance hired a full-time CEO, Charles Vinick, a former CEO of the Ocean Futures Society and vice president of the Cousteau Society. With these changes came a shift in the Alliance's focus, beyond Cape Wind to include pollution from land- and water-based sources, conservation, ocean management and education. "Our issue was and still is Cape Wind," said Alliance Executive Director Susan Nickerson. "However, we recognize that there are far broader threats to Nantucket Sound and we are now in a position to take on a broader mission and we intend to do that. The inland and coastal waters of the Cape and islands "are threatened by a variety of activities, including development, and it's not just energy development." "We're worried about development, but we're also worried about pollution of the waters, runoff from the land, septic systems, land fertilizers," and other threats, Nickerson said. These pressures, Vinick said, "are hitting Nantucket Sound just like they are hitting waterways across the US." "That's why we're so proud, we're pleased, we're challenged and we're committed to be a Soundkeeper organization, to be a part of Bobby Kennedy's Waterkeeper Alliance," Vinick said. The Alliance's redefined mission "is not meant in any way to substitute" for its opposition to the Cape Wind project, Nickerson said, "but to broaden our focus." "What happens here will set precedent for how the oceans, or how our outer waters are regulated," Vinick said. "And the issue that we face is that there is no national governance policy today."

Nantucket Soundkeeper Events Include Fundraiser and Tour for Teenagers

A Barnstable police boat warns the occupants of two motorized inflatable dinghies from Greenpeace to keep their distance from the Spirit of Massachusetts schooner during yesterday's "Soundkeeper" sail. Greenpeace and Clean Power Now protested the event with actions from boats and on shore. The gray dinghy at left is from the schooner (photo by Jack Coleman)

In recognition of its designationfrom the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, with help from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown and the Ocean Classroom Foundation, is organizing a series of "Nantucket Soundkeeper Days" this week. The events started yesterday with public tours in Hyannis of the Spirit of Massachusetts, which was built in Charlestown near the USS Constitution in 1984 as a replica of a late 19th century fishing schooner out of Gloucester. The Soundkeeper Days events continued with today's morning cruise of Nantucket Sound and an Alliance fund-raiser on the Spirit of Massachusetts late this afternoon. The events continue through the weekend when the schooner makes stops at Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket and returns to Hyannis Marina on Sunday for an open house from 1-5 p.m. and a cruise on Monday to Horseshoe Shoal, site of the proposed wind far, for 30 local teenagers.

Kennedy Decries Government Subsidies to Polluters

Accompanying Kennedy was his mother, Ethel Kennedy, who took a turn at the helm of the schooner. Asked her opinion of the proposed wind farm, Mrs. Kennedy deferred to her son because "he says it so much better than I do." Also turning out for yesterday's sail were Assembly of Delegate representatives Thomas Bernardo, Thomas Lynch and Marcia King, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe, and State Rep. Eric Turkington, D-Falmouth, chairman of the Legislature's Tourism, Arts and Culture Committee. In his remarks, Kennedy described the Waterkeeper Alliance as the fastest growing environmental group in the country, with 140 chapters across the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Australia. He describes the first Waterkeeper groups efforts in converting the heavily polluted Hudson River to one of the most productive fisheries in the world. "As for Cape Wind, the most important wilderness for us to be protecting are the wilderness that are closest to the largest numbers of people," Kennedy said. Among the reasons he opposes the Cape Wind project, Kennedy said, "is that it makes no economic sense. And there is no stronger advocate for free-market capitalism than myself. "

Ethel Kennedy works the helm during yesterday's "Soundkeeper" sail on Nantucket Sound (photo by Jack Coleman)

Environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. christens the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound's new 19-foot Mako patrol boat by breaking a bottle of water against its hull yesterday at Hyannis Marina (photo by Jack Coleman)
"The best thing that could happen to the environment is if we had true free-market capitalism in this country because the free market encourages us to use our resources efficiently," Kennedy said. "And efficiency means the elimination of waste and pollution from our waterways and it encourages us to properly value our natural resources." "It is the undervaluation of those natural resources, like Nantucket Sound, that causes us to use them wastefully," Kennedy said. "You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy. I'll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay his production costs." "That's what all pollution is - it's the undervaluation of resources, it's the shifting of resources from the pollutor to the public.""And there is no better example of this than Cape Wind, where we are going to end up, you and I, the federal taxpayers, paying these people $241 million to privatize our resources that we own, something that is heavily utilized, that produces an economy for all these communities out here," Kennedy said. "This is their property, this is their livelihood."

Cape Wind CEO Skeptical of Alliance's Claims

Responding to Kennedy's remarks, Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon said that "for decades, the polluting fossil fuels and nuclear industries have received, and are receiving, billions of dollars in subsidies. I would think Mr. Kennedy would be pleased to see renewable energy receive a production tax credit to catalyize projects that would contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment and reduce dependence on foreign energy." Clean Power Now Executive Director Matthew Palmer said "we are very disappointed that RFK Jr. is opposed to the wind farm project. With his environmental record, he should recognize the benefits this project brings, particularly in slowing global warming and reducing mercury contamination to sea life." Gordon said he was skeptical of the Alliance's claim to a broadened agenda. "When you build an organization on a platform of trying to kill an offshore wind farm that will contribute to reducing global warming and pollutant emissions that are harming Nantucket Sound and its neighbors, you are not protecting Nantucket Sound," he said. "They have marginalized themselves in the eyes of the environmental community and the public and they are grasping for ways to keep their money spigot flowing," Gordon said. "No matter how they broaden their mission, their organization is constructed on a flawed foundation.  There's a big difference between environmentalism and obstructionism."

In a statement released by Greenpeace, spokesman Chris Miller said that "given the fact that Mr. Kennedy's own children suffer from asthma and he has worked tirelessly" as an environmental advocate, "he should join Greenpeace and countless other environmental groups in support of the project."

"It's time for RFK Jr. to lead the Cape and islands towards a clean energy revolution," Miller said. "It's about a vision for healthy oceans, not the view from the Kennedy compound."

Kennedy referred to the protesters a second time in his remarks, when he said, "I love Greenpeace and I love these people who are protesting out here today, and I think that they all have good hearts and are doing what they believe is right."  "But, you know, this is the right church, it's just the wrong pew," Kennedy said.

After yesterday's sail, Kennedy christened a 19-foot Mako boat to be used by the Alliance to patrol the Sound by smashing a bottle (filled with water, not champagne) against its hull at the Hyannis Marina dock. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on