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EILEEN MCNAMARA

Wind plan needs airing

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has a home in Hyannis Port and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has a cottage in Chatham. Their critics say that is why the two Massachusetts Democrats oppose construction of 130 windmills in Nantucket Sound; they don't want steel turbines spoiling their view.

Governor Mitt Romney has a summer place on Lake Winnipesaukee in central New Hampshire and Lieutenant Governor Kerry M. Healey has a vacation home in Vermont. Those turbines are about as tall as the Statue of Liberty, but I am pretty sure you cannot see them from either Republican's patio in northern New England.

What's their motive?

Maybe resistance to constructing the nation's first offshore wind facility on Horseshoe Shoal is about more than the property values of folks lucky enough to own homes on Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, or Cape Cod. Maybe it is also about whether a private, for-profit developer ought to be handed 24 square miles of publicly owned federal land without having to submit to a competitive bidding process. Maybe it is about whether Congress ought to devise clear rules for development of the ocean floor before, not after, entrepreneurs start erecting fields of wind turbines offshore.

Don't Jim Gordon, chief executive and president of Cape Wind, and his investors have more financial self-interest in pushing this project than Kennedy and Reilly have in killing it? The Kennedy compound is lovely, but the value of those whitewashed houses does not compare to the tens of millions that Cape Wind will reap if the wind energy facility is built.

In five years of carping at one another, the two sides in this bitter debate have expended most of their energy sullying one another's motives, leaving plenty of questions still unanswered about the impact of the project on marine navigation and local air traffic. Ferries crisscross Nantucket Sound, carrying more than 3 million passengers a year. Three regional airports serve the popular tourist area and pilots have expressed concern about radar interference and the height of the turbines in the often fogbound sound.

Those are substantive concerns, too easily obscured by the pressing need to address this nation's unhealthy dependence on foreign oil. Kennedy, Reilly, Romney, and Healey all support the development of renewable energy resources and each has embraced wind as a promising alternative to oil and gas. It is simply nonsense to suggest that a politician's opposition to a particular project is an attempt to scuttle any future development of wind power.

There is legitimate outrage being expressed at the back-room maneuvering earlier this month on Capitol Hill that could hand Romney the power to veto the project. There is cause to object to the last-minute inclusion in an $8.7 billion Coast Guard appropriation bill of an amendment that would make the wind project subject to a Massachusetts gubernatorial veto. Process matters. Public policy ought to be made in the open, not behind closed doors.

But it is hard to empathize with incensed proponents of the Cape Wind project who have spent five years characterizing any opposition as the self-interested whining of wealthy waterfront property owners. Nantucket Sound does not belong to Kennedy or Reilly. It is a national treasure, enjoyed as much by schoolteachers from Tulsa on a two-week holiday as it is by the landed gentry windsurfing off their Nantucket shorefront. To appreciate its aesthetic beauty, to want to preserve its natural wonder are no more a mark of elitism than it would be to resist development of the Grand Canyon.

Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico plans to mount an assault on the amendment on the floor. He should, and those who think Massachusetts ought to have a voice in a huge industrial development 6 miles off its coastline should stand up and say so. It might even turn into an enlightening debate.

And, no, I do not own a house on the Cape.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at mcnamara@globe.com.

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