Protesters Voice Their Concerns Over Newport Preservation Society’s Wind Farm Lawsuit
December 20, 2023
NEWPORT, R.I. — As cars pulled into The Elms’ gate for a Preservation Society of Newport County holiday gathering Tuesday night, protesters stood outside the early 20th-century mansion shouting about a 21st-century problem.
“Lives over views,” the crowd of about 30 people chanted, holding up signs with sayings like, “Drop the lawsuit!” and “Let’s preserve our sea level.”
Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) organized the protest to voice opposition to a lawsuit filed by the Preservation Society over the federal government’s approval of a wind project off the state’s shores.
While the protesters waved their signs and chanted, Kevin O’Leary, marketing director for the Preservation Society, stood by the gates, talking and sometimes debating the issue with the folks around him.
“I think we’re more on the same side than we’re not,” he told ecoRI News, something protesters both did and didn’t agree with.
The Preservation Society isn’t against the wind project, O’Leary told ecoRI News and the protesters who talked to him, but the federal government didn’t permit it with the proper oversight, he said.
The “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management failed to comply with federal law because it failed to take a hard look at environmental impacts and failed to resolve adverse effects to historic properties,” the organization’s complaint claims, calling the approval a “sham consulting process with numerous skipped steps and foregone conclusions.”
As one of the largest industrial projects in recent history, “I think it deserves due diligence,” O’Leary said.
When O’Leary asked a few protesters whether they thought it was a good idea to fast-track something so consequential, several people shouted, “Yes!”
“We need to do it as fast as we can. The more we delay it, the worse it’s gonna be,” said Bob Morton, referring to climate change.
“It’s unfortunate that they didn’t bring this up earlier,” Newport resident Thomas Palmer said.
O’Leary said the Preservation Society wasn’t “brought into the process. We weren’t made aware.”
Since the Preservation Society announced its opposition to the federal permitting and review process for the Revolution and South Fork wind projects, many in the environmental community, including some at the Dec. 19 protest, accused the group of a “not in my backyard” mentality.
A line in the organization’s complaint about how the turbines will “despoil ocean views” has especially riled people like Christian Roselund, a member of the Providence Urbanist Network, who said he welcomed the opportunity to protest NIMBY-ism.
“All of their claims are bogus,” he said of the Preservation Society’s complaint, including the argument that turbines will ruin the view.
“We all use electricity. Some people have to suffer health impacts from the generation of electricity, and what we have here is extremely privileged people who don’t even want to see the generation of electricity,” Roselund said. “That is the height of energy privilege right there.”
A Frequently Asked Questions page about the complaint on the legal firm Cultural Heritage Partners website lists the Preservation Society’s concerns that the view of the turbines could impact tourism negatively.
Brian Jones, a Newport resident, said it was ironic that the nonprofit cared so much about a wind farm when it owns properties “next to a crumbling wall” — the Cliff Walk — caused by a “fragile ecosystem.”
His wife, Judy K. Jones, said this was the first environmental protest they had been a part of and that she was “very upset” by the Preservation Society’s actions.
As cars rolled in for the holiday celebration, some honked or waved at the protesters.
CARI co-president Jeff Migneault wondered out loud whether any of the Preservation Society’s members might agree with them.
O’Leary said it was important to him to stand outside with the protesters, even if they didn’t see eye to eye.
“If they’re going to take time out of their day and drive here,” he said, “the least we can do is respect their rights and come out and engage with them.”
“The Elms was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind, whose fortune was made in the coal industry,” according to the Preservation Society.