Monday, June 7, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-11: Words to live by...

if you want to actually get something done (First in a continuing series)

Saturday's Boston Globe carried a story by correspondent Robert Preer entitled "Not even a whisper against this wind farm." Preer's piece is about a proposed wind farm in the town of Wareham that, unlike the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound and another major wind farm proposal at Brodie Mountain in Berkshire County, is moving through the state's environmental review process with a minimum of controversy and appears headed toward construction commencement this year. Now, the narrative here is a bit odd, as you can tell from the headline alone. It's almost as if the Globe can't believe that a wind farm proposal of any magnitude can actually get through the approval process without the usual circus of NIMBYs (both reasonable and unreasonable), climate change critics, and general naysayers. Obvious substantive differences that distinghish the Wareham project, dubbed the "Bog Wind Power Cooperative," from a project like Cape Wind include size (8 turbines for Bog Wind vs. 130 turbines for Cape Wind, lessening the visual impact), location (inland in Wareham instead of offshore in Nantucket Sound, near major highways and power lines), and immediate, deeply invested local project supporters (in the cranberry farm owners where the turbines will be located (hence the "bog" and "cooperative" elements of the project name) as opposed to Cape Wind's federal waters location).

All of the foregoing is true, but I want to focus on what I believe is an absolute MONEY quote from Glen Berkowitz, the president of Beaufort Windpower, the Boston-based company that is leading the project. This quote reveals what may be the real difference maker between Bog Wind and projects like them that seem to move quickly through the review process and the many, many other projects that hit huge snags and erupt in disastrous controversy. Says Berkowitz, about halfway through the article:

"We want to design, permit, and build the project in a way that creates public trust."

Don't we all want this? Don't developers want this? Don't project neighbors want this? Don't elected officials and municipal staff want this? Don't environmental advocates want this? Doesn't the public at large want this?

Yet, this seldom happens. Initially, the public attitude is almost always going to be one of distrust and suspicion. Everyone thinks they've seen this show before -- the greedy developer will screw the local townspeople and move on to their next opportunity to do the same someplace else. To a greater extent than we realize, we've been programmed to believe that any physical change in our community will make it worse -- more development necessarily means more traffic, more noise, more environmental degradation, and more people. And, of course, given most of what we've built over the last 60+ years in this country, project opponents aren't necessarily wrong. That said, it takes massive quantities of patience, belief in what you're doing, and confidence to not be put off by the inevitable first reaction and keep working in an open and inclusive way that (hopefully) gives everyone time and space to come to terms with something new and different. It looks like Glen Berkowitz may have substantial measures of all three traits. For that, he is to be saluted and he is therefore our first RTUF Words to Live By if You Want to Actually Get Something Done awardee. Thank you, Glen.

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