2005-09-29 / Front Page

Town Council stands opposed to LNG port

By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council and the town’s state representative Monday were tough in their responses to last week’s comments by State Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Lynch contended that the town did not oppose plans for liquefied natural gas storage facilities that involve supertankers transporting LNG through Narragansett Bay in ways that some say will be hazardous and extensively disruptive.

The attorney general made the accusations because the council voted on Sept. 12 not to hire the lawyer he supported to lead a legal battle opposing the proposed LNG facility.

Town officials have repeatedly said that they do not want new LNG facilities at Providence or Fall River, and that they do not want supertankers transporting highly volatile LNG through Narragansett Bay.

They rejected Lynch’s recommendation because it would have violated town regulations on spending tax dollars without considering all qualified applicants for the work. Last week, Lynch and his staff refused to back off on their charges that Jamestown does not oppose LNG plans, even after town officials tried to point out the inaccuracies of the attorney general’s claims.

Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks Monday said he would present a list of options for the council to consider as alternative methods to oppose the LNG proposals at its next meeting, Oct. 11.

“It went over his (Lynch’s) head that we are against the LNG plans,” Councilor Barbara Szepatowski noted. She urged her colleagues to be thinking about ways, in addition to a legal brief or lawsuit, to demonstrate continued opposition to the LNG plans. Lynch’s “inaccuracies were confusing even Jamestowners about the town’s position. I’ve had people come to me with comments about being for the LNG plans,” Szepatowski said.

She pointed out that earlier she challenged Lynch to lead, in addition to lawsuits, other types of opposition to the LNG propsals. She said that the attorney general “has started nothing else, at least publicly, not even a committee” to work on environmental and other concerns.

Szepatowski, who is the council’s liaison to all other entities working on the LNG issues, said that LNG opponents have various other possibilities that are being spearheaded by individuals, organizations and towns. She cited the work of the Aquidneck Planning Council and its recent reports on the economic impacts of using LNG tankers in bay waters and the Save The Bay work, including its forum this week on the LNG issues.

Szepatowski also said Lynch and his position was “irritating, wrong, and we need to do something about it. He needs to sit down with us and talk it out.” She added, “This can’t be a political thing. We must put work into it.”

“Dirty politics”

Speaking at the council’s open forum later in Monday’s meeting, state Representative Bruce Long, (R-Jamestown and Middletown) called Lynch’s letter to the council and its comments “dirty politics.”

He supported council members’ view that they have been long and consistently opposed to the LNG proposals. “You were the first in the county to be talking against LNG,” long before others were aware, the legislator said. “Now it is popular to be against LNG” projects that would negatively impact the state and the bay. A senior legislator with 25 years at the Statehouse, Long said what Lynch wrote “was so insulting. He should get a good old fashioned grammar school scolding.”

After the meeting, Long said that the LNG battle “has no place for politics.”

Szepatowksi also questioned Lynch’s use of testimony provided by Jamestown emergency personnel about the projected negative impacts of LNG tankers on the bay. Lynch cited the testimony as evidence that the town should oppose the LNG projects. Szepatowski condemned Lynch’s use of the data to try to discredit the town with use of testimony from town volunteer workers.

Agreeing with others’ statements critical of Lynch, Councilman William Kelly said that the attorney general’s letter to the council after its Sep. 12 vote “bordered on being insulting.” He later said the letter “was insulting.” Kelly said Lynch’s comments about Jamestown were “very disconcerting.” He emphasized that the council rejected Lynch’s suggestion because Lynch had originally said that the town could join the lawsuit without cost, but a voluntary donation was being asked for as a separate action.

Solicitor Parks subsequently determined that the town would have to pay $5,000 immediately to join in the legal brief, and then be committed to pay up to $25,000 total to be a party in the court action against the LNG proposals.

Parks and the councilors noted that town policy prevented such a payment without conducting a competitive search for a qualified lawyer. They were not voting against the lawyer Lynch recommended, but they could not vote for any lawyer without the proper procedure, Council Vice President Julio DiGiando repeated several times.

Agreeing with his colleagues’ comments, Councilman Michael Schnack, also called the brief filed by the Washington, D.C., lawyer hired by Lynch inadequate, “like something a first-year law student would write.”

Council is opposed

Each councilor echoed the report that the town, its officials and a consensus of residents have been opposed — consistently and unanimously — to plans for new LNG facilities in Providence and Fall River because of dangers to people and property, environmental concerns, and major negative economic impacts that offset the claimed need for the energy source and the claimed economic advantages.

Last week, Town Council President David Long, who was absent Monday, scolded Lynch for “dragging Jamestown through the mud . . . with false, disturbing, inaccurate and confrontational statements.”

The uproar is over plans by Weaver’s Cove for a new LNG terminal in Fall River, Mass., that was federally approved in July, subject to challenges, and by KeySpan, for expansion of its LNG terminal in Providence, which was federally rejected in July.

KeySpan now expects to be involved in the distribution of LNG from Weaver’s Cove, pending approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has regulatory authority over the projects.

Lynch has repeatedly made statements over the past two weeks, and his staff has upheld, that in his view Jamestown does not oppose the LNG proposals because Jamestown declined to adopt his recommendation to hire a Washington, D.C., law firm to handle the legal work opposing the LNG proposals.

“I don’t know why the attorney general is making those false allegations about Jamestown,” Council President Long said last week. “We purposely did not scold Mr. Lynch for his misleading the council, but now that he has made such allegations, I will respond,” Long said. “No good deed goes unpunished,” he repeated a few times in his response. “He’s attacking the island that has been on record against the (LNG) plans. We should all be in this war together, not fighting each other,” Long added.

“Jamestown is on record as opposing (the LNG proposals). We have constantly reiterated our opposition. And we are not the first to decline” the measures proposed by Lynch, the council president said. “He misled us about the law brief. . . .

“If he really cared about the LNG problems, he would want all of us without a price tag,” Long added.

Letter to Lynch

On Tuesday Long released a copy of a letter he wrote to Lynch on Friday, repeating some of his comments last week and repeating some of the comments of other councilors.

He also detailed the exact actions and resolutions by the council to register clear opposition to LNG proposals, and he detailed public representations by Lynch and members of Lynch’s staff that the Lynch-recommended legal action would be at no cost to the town.

The council president also took issue with the attorney general saying that Jamestown is the first town to reject his legal plan. Long said that North Kingston has declined to join the lawsuit, and that to date, Barrington has declined to respond to Lynch’s request to join the lawsuit.

“This issue is too crucial to the welfare of the state to be clouded by misleading political posturing. It is my hope that in the future, we will all devote our energies to opposing our common concern — the LNG facility — rather than wasting time and resources criticizing our allies,” Long wrote.

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