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Douglas Yearley, mining CEO who led foes of Cape Wind plan


Nearly 60 years ago, Douglas C. Yearley began traveling each summer with his father and brother to northeastern Saskatchewan, where they would fish in Reindeer Lake. As the years passed the trips included his sons and son-in-law and he introduced the next generation to a tradition he hoped would be passed down to his grandsons.

"He loved it because he loved the outdoors and the environment," said his son Peter of New York City. "And he cherished as much the bonding experience with his sons and brother and son-in-law. It was kind of classic male bonding."

That affection for nature, along with Mr. Yearley's considerable business expertise, formed the underpinnings of his three-year term as chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group formed to fight plans to place power-generating turbines off Cape Cod.

Mr. Yearley, chairman emeritus of Phelps Dodge Corp., a mining company where he worked for 40 years, died Sunday in his Osterville house. He was 71 and had been battling multiple myeloma.

"He was very passionate about preserving Nantucket Sound," said Susan Nickerson, executive director of the alliance. "And if there was one pride and joy in his life it was his children and grandchildren, and I know his feelings for them were part of his motivation."

Although his participation in the group leading the battle against the proposed wind farm put Mr. Yearley in the spotlight locally, his acumen as a business leader was established during his career with Phelps Dodge, a Phoenix-based conglomerate that was acquired earlier this year by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.

"Doug was widely recognized as a leading figure in the copper industry," James R. Moffett, chairman of the board at Freeport-McMoRan, said in a statement issued by the company. "He provided leadership for Phelps Dodge during some of the industry's most challenging times, when low copper prices and high production costs threatened many traditional mining assets."

In 1993, the industry named Mr. Yearley the "Copper Club Man of the Year," and he was inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame two years later. The National Mining Association gave him its distinguished service award in 2000, and an endowed chair in mineral processing was established in his name at the University of Arizona in 2005.

His background in an industry considered by many environmentalists as antithetical to nature advocacy made Mr. Yearley a target of some supporters of the Cape Wind turbines, who see the wind farm as an environmentally responsible project opposed by a wealthy contingent that doesn't want its view spoiled.

"It's a monstrous project," Mr. Yearley said of the wind farm for a Time magazine article, titled "Not in My Back Bay," published in 2002. "It will be a Christmas tree out there every night."

Nine years earlier, at an annual London Metal Exchange dinner, Mr. Yearley took a dim view of environmental groups.

"The environmental movement's power is growing and that power is not going to be reversed - at least not in our lifetime," he said in a speech covered by American Metal Market, a trade publication for the metals industry.

"You can sum up the historical progress of the environmental movement using just six words: agitate, investigate, overstate, legislate, regulate, and litigate," he said. "We must replace those six words by which environmentalists function to three: evaluate, moderate, and cooperate."

Neighbors of proposed projects who adopt a "not in my backyard" mentality could end up instituting "pristine standards" in the place of reasonable standards at the peril of development, Mr. Yearley cautioned, according to American Metal Market.

Some supporters of the wind turbine project have objected to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound's use of the word "pristine" to describe the sound.

"He was never daunted by the opposition," said Nickerson, the alliance's executive director. When he was criticized, she said, "he brushed it off as what comes with the job."

Mr. Yearley, she said, "really provided direction and strong leadership at a critical time. His presence and guidance will be very much missed."

A native of Oak Park, Ill., Mr. Yearley graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering and completed Harvard's program for management development.

After two years with the electric boat division of General Dynamics Corp., he joined Phelps Dodge Copper Products Co. in New Jersey in 1960 and rose through the ranks to become chief executive and board chairman.

Several years ago, Mr. Yearley formed the Yearley Family Foundation to help fund educational organizations that assist underprivileged youth, his son said. The foundation is based in Westfield, N.J., where the family has had a home for 45 years. The Yearleys purchased a home in Osterville overlooking Nantucket Sound a decade ago.

Mr. Yearley's son said family was always foremost for his father, who loved to host his dozen-plus grandchildren on Cape Cod.

"He would just relish sitting on the back patio of our house in Osterville and watching 15 kids wreak havoc," his son said. "One of the things he cherished and had hoped to do was to see them grow old."

In addition to Anne (Dunbar), his wife of 49 years, and his son Peter, Mr. Yearley leaves a daughter, Sandy of Hamilton; two other sons, Douglas Jr. of Pennington, N.J., and Andrew of Scarsdale, N.Y.; a brother, Lee of Palo Alto, Calif.; eight granddaughters; and seven grandsons.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, N.J.

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