Cape Cod Times: “Cape Wind opponent plans to refocus on original mission”
By Mary Ann Bragg, December 26, 2017 –
Audra Parker says work will continue to protect Nantucket Sound.
HYANNIS — It was, in part, the tenacity of an immigrant’s daughter that brought Cape Wind to its knees. That and $40 million.
“I am still sleeping with one eye open,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of the announcement by Cape Wind that it was giving up its lease to build 130 wind turbines in the Sound.
Long nights are nothing new for Parker, 55, who has led the nonprofit organization and served as the public face of opposition to the wind farm since 2009.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management still needs to approve Cape Wind’s Nov. 29 request to relinquish its lease of 46 square miles of federal waters. The alliance is tending to “loose ends” and considering its next moves in the meantime, Parker said.
The federal agency is reviewing Cape Wind’s request for completeness and proper filing protocol, bureau spokesman Stephen Boutwell said. Once that review is complete, the agency will release more information, he said.
“Given the history of this project, given the twists and turns, I am fairly confident, but I won’t be 100 percent confident until I see an approval in writing,” Parker said.
The alliance and other Cape Wind opponents had filed an appeal Nov. 21 with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Board of Land Appeals objecting to the bureau’s decision in September to approve a supplemental environmental impact statement for Cape Wind. That decision “rubber-stamped” Cape Wind’s lease, valid into the 2040s, according to the alliance, which had pushed for the lease to be terminated because of changes since 2009, when the environmental statement was first issued.
“Right now that appeal is still live and should not be dropped until we see some final approval of the relinquishment of the lease,” Parker said.
Once it’s official, the alliance will be able to turn its full attention to what has been its mission all along, protecting the Sound and traditional uses such as recreation and fishing, and achieving a permanent protection against industrial development, Parker said. That protection could come in the form of a national marine sanctuary designation, some type of development prohibition or by some other method, she said.
“The future of the Sound is still at risk, given the federal water ‘doughnut hole’ that exists,” said Kenneth Smith, chairman of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce board of directors, of the area in the middle of the sound where Cape Wind would have been located. “The alliance’s work will continue to be important to be sure we don’t abuse the asset that is Nantucket Sound.”
The tenacity and “dogged determination” of the alliance’s leadership, including Parker and others, has been a great part of their success to date, Smith said.
Since the announcement by Cape Wind on Dec. 1 that it was giving up its lease, the alliance staff has been communicating with donors, answering media requests, updating its website, sending out email blasts and following up on the annual donation appeal.
Parker had been on a fundraising trip to New York when she received word that Cape Wind had dropped its lease.
“I did not necessarily anticipate that this was the year,” based on an economic analysis of Cape Wind’s relatively low annual expenses, Parker said.
The company had stated publicly within the past few years that it had put $100 million into the project but by now only had an annual lease payment of $88,278 and a presence in lawsuits that targeted federal agencies, which were largely defended by government attorneys, Parker said.
Cape Wind was first proposed in 2001, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued the lease in 2010.
“They could have stayed in it for fairly short money,” she said. Parker, who succeeded several other high-profile leaders of the alliance, may not have been an obvious choice to lead the opposition over the finish line, but she came to it armed with plenty of life experience and the will to fight. She appeared equally comfortable in arguing with Cape Wind president Jim Gordon in the hallways of the Statehouse as she was discussing an analysis of its effects on ratepayers. She has met one-on-one with federal lawmakers, wooed big-money donors and held protest signs alongside volunteers.
But when Cape Wind was first proposed, she was in an even harder fight.
In the early 2000s, when Parker’s husband, Bryan, was diagnosed with brain cancer, the couple moved from New York to the Cape to be near Parker’s parents and have access to doctors in Boston. At the time, they had two children, and twins were on the way. With an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and economics as well as an MBA, Parker had worked solely in the private sector. On the Cape, and trying to figure out how to start a business, she began in late 2002 to help out at the alliance doing database administration once a week. After her husband died in 2003, Parker’s role at the alliance expanded into marketing, advertising and bringing a businesslike approach to the group. She became head of the organization in 2009. In 2016, she was paid $202,000 as the group’s CEO and president.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” Parker said of the job.
The alliance had a $2 million budget in 2016, and about $900,000 in assets. Parker said she expected to see some donors who were solely focused on Cape Wind drop away, but many will continue to support the permanent protection of the Sound from development, and new donors who held back because they were reluctant to fight a renewable energy project may emerge, she said. The chairman of the alliance’s board of directors is William Koch, an Osterville homeowner, with an estimated $1.7 billion in wealth from oil and investments, according to Forbes.
“The alliance kept the issue alive and in front of everyone’s mind,” said Scott Zeien, president of the Cape Cod Marine Trades Association, which represents 100 business on the Cape and Islands.
Despite the trades association’s belief that wind power is an important contributor to future energy needs, the group supported the alliance because “Cape Wind was simply in the wrong place for the project,” Zeien said. The association’s relationship with the alliance was issue oriented, so there are no current expectations for the alliance’s future work, he said.
In the alliance’s office overlooking Main Street in Hyannis, Parker speaks energetically about the experience and her continued conviction.
“I don’t give up,” Parker said. “I’m really tenacious. I don’t mind a fight.”
Those qualities come naturally, she said. Her Lithuanian parents were deported from their home country in the 1940s and eventually settled in Hartford after receiving $1 each in aid when they arrived in the U.S. Her father, who trained as a mechanical engineer, and her mother, who worked in a tobacco factory before getting a high school education, were able to buy a summer cottage near Craigville Beach, where other Lithuanian families had settled and continue to live today. Parker’s mother still lives in the cottage.
During summers as a child on the Cape, with only one television station to watch, Parker said she, her brother and their mother often walked to Covell Beach for entertainment, while her dad worked during the week at Texas Instruments in Attleboro, using the family car.
If Cape Wind had succeeded, beachgoers seeking similar experiences would “absolutely” have a view of the project’s turbines, she said.
A private developer should not be allowed to mar that type of public resource, she said. Although the alliance has a handful of six-figure donors, the fight against Cape Wind was more than a fight waged by wealthy waterfront homeowners or fossil-fuel interests, she said, attributing her understanding of the interests of fishermen and Native Americans to her husband’s tribal heritage and his work as a commercial fisherman so he could pay for college.
“It belongs to all of us,” Parker said of the beach and the ocean. “It is public trust land.”
— Follow Mary Ann Bragg on Twitter: @maryannbraggCCT.
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