Stephan Savoia  /  AP
Mark Rogers, communication director for Cape Wind stands on a Cape Cod, Mass. beach overlooking the patch of water some 6.5 miles away where his group wants to build a 130-turbine wind farm. A Congressional subcommittee is considering a measure restircting such turbines that could kill the project.
updated 2/28/2006 4:39:48 PM ET 2006-02-28T21:39:48

After a long, loud and costly public fight, the fate of a proposed Massachusetts wind farm could be decided soon at a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Backers of the Cape Wind Associates project say an amendment quietly slipped into the $8.7 billion Coast Guard reauthorization bill could shatter their hopes -- possibly as soon as this week when Congress returns from a holiday recess.

"If this passes, we'd be facing some tough options," said Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.

The legislative intrigue in Congress involving the proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound has been cloaked in secrecy.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, inserted language in the Coast Guard bill that would create a 1.5-mile buffer zone between wind turbines and shipping and ferry lanes.

The measure would effectively kill Cape Wind's wind farm by forcing the removal of so many of the proposed 130 turbines that the project would not be economically viable, according to project officials.

Young stoked Cape Wind fears recently when he circulated a five-page letter urging fellow lawmakers to support his amendment. A group of House and Senate conferees are to meet behind closed doors to hash out the final details of the Coast Guard bill.

Young, who has avoided public comment about Cape Wind since reports about his amendment surfaced last year, outlined his opposition to Cape Wind over five pages.

Young said Cape Wind chose a site "with few guidelines and no royalties or payment to the federal government." But he concluded that "the most critical problem with the proposed siting of the Cape Wind project is the navigational safety issue."

Ferry routes to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket transport 3 million passengers a year and come within a few hundred yards of the proposed turbines, Young said.

Cape Wind, however, believes the safety issue is a smoke screen for old-fashioned hardball politics involving Washington lobbyists with close ties to Young.

"He's doing it at the behest of Cape Wind opponents," said Rodgers. "He refuses to meet with us."

A spokesman for Young did not return telephone calls for comment.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the wind farm, insisted the amendment is about safeguarding boaters and others.

"It's a matter of public safety and that's my understanding of why the congressman introduced it," said Charles Vinick, president of the alliance. "All this amendment does is set up some criteria for public safety."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., opposes the project along with Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy, whose district includes Cape Cod. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has not taken a position on Cape Wind.

Kerry, however, said he is opposed to Young's amendment.

"The Young amendment is an insult to Americans who care about good government," Kerry said in a statement. "I oppose this backdoor amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Bill which -- if passed -- will derail offshore wind projects across the nation."

Kennedy has voiced concerns about the environmental and economic impact on Cape Cod. He has also complained about the lack of a national policy to regulate such offshore projects.

"Given the potential dangers of siting one of these giant wind farms in a busy shipping area, he thinks (the amendment) is worth the conferees' consideration," said Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner.

Cape Wind, meanwhile, is trying to rally opposition on Capitol Hill. It began e-mailing supporters, urging them to contact four senators who are key conferees: Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

"If this isn't stripped out in the conference committee, it's going to be very difficult," said Rodgers.

Young's amendment has not been the subject of any congressional hearings, Rodgers noted, and it has not been voted on by either the House or Senate.

"This is exactly the kind of practice the American people are disgusted with and want to put an end to," said Rodgers, citing the recent furor over Washington's lobbying scandal. "It would send a terrible message."

Conference committees were supposedly designed to hammer out differences between competing versions of legislation that have been approved by the House and Senate, Rodgers added.

Cape Wind officials said it was unclear whether there might be a legislative remedy to counter Young's amendment.

"We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it," said Rodgers.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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