2005-10-13 / Front Page

Jamestown goes solo in LNG port battle

Town takes legal action against proposed LNG facility
By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council Tuesday agreed to directly challenge the use of Narragansett Bay by liquefied natural gas tankers after members conducted a short executive session on an amicus brief prepared by Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks.

The vote was to file the brief directly with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It urges that agency “to reverse (its) order of July 15 and reject the Weaver’s Cove application” to build an LNG terminal in Fall River, Mass.

Some weeks ago, the councilors voted not to join a similar challenge by several bay communities because town rules prevent hiring a lawyer or any professional without a competitive review of the applicants’ qualifications to perform such work. That joint bay-area challenge, written by a Washington, D.C., law firm, was promoted by State Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Jamestown’s decision about the joint action led to much criticism and misleading statements by Lynch about the town’s position on the proposed LNG plans.

The Town Councilors said their adoption of their own legal brief against the Weaver’s Cove project should reinforce its several previous actions to try to block the development of the LNG facility.

“We went into executive session because this represents potential litigation,” Council President David Long said. “We read it and we agreed it was excellent. We went into open session to adopt it and release it. It was unanimous, of course. We instructed our (acting) town administrator to have Mr. Parks sign it and have it delivered,” Long said.

Parks was not present for the council discussion and action on his brief because of illness, but he was planning to sign the document by today and submit it to the FERC.

Councilman William Kelly echoed Long’s assessment of the legal document. “I am extremely satisfied with Mr. Parks’ work. I am delighted it is being filed on our behalf, and I am looking forward to a positive response,” Kelly said.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, who serves as town liaison for all LNG related activities, praised the “quickness and quality” of Parks’ work, noting that it cost a lot less than the $25,000 the town would have been committed to by taking part in the Washington-generated document.

“I think we as a group — the council, administrator, and solicitor — work great together. We get it done. Now we have to continue to look at other ways to get at this problem. We’ll be working on the dredging aspects, Naval implications, not just the lawyers,” Szepatowski said.

The councilors specifically excluded Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch from its deliberations to prevent any cause for claims by Lynch about conflicts of interest. Harsch has announced that he is a candidate and will run against Lynch for the office of state attorney general in the November 2006 elections.

Parks’ five-page brief says in part that Jamestown is a small island community adjacent to the navigational channel that will be used by LNG tankers enroute to the proposed Fall River storage terminal. “The town is compelled to intervene, as it is apparent that (the FERC) in approving the project, did not take into consideration the consequences such a decision would have on island life.” Parks wrote.

He outlined the island’s vulnerability to any mishap that might occur with the tankers. “Portions of Jamestown are within 600 feet of the tanker route and are therefore within the 1,000 yard safety and security exclusion zone,” the brief emphasizes.

“Much of Jamestown’s population (of about 6,000 year-round residents) is well within the zone of incineration danger identified in the Environmental Impact Study,” the brief states. Its most densely populated village area “not only falls within the radiation burn zone but may well ignite should a combustible vapor cloud form or a pool fire occur,” according to Parks. He pointed out the firefighters and emergency meddical services are housed within the village and “will likely be incapacitated . . . should disaster strike.”

He also cited the 35-minute ride for hospital help for anyone who might survive a disaster, or who would be affected by a designation of the area as a security zone, which is under U.S. Coast Guard control.

The brief charges that the FERC “indifference to the plight of an island community directly adjacent to the navigational channel is callous and unconscionable. . . . It is unimaginable that (the FERC) approved (the project) without once giving thought to the effect such approval would have on this community or the surrounding communities in general.”

Parks cited the “horrendous” results of the planned evacuation of Galveston, Texas, for hurricane Rita as an example of the consequences of an LNG disaster on Narragansett Bay. The town solicitor also took the FERC to task for failing “to take into account routine delays” that each tanker trip would impose on residents along the bay route.

Concluding with a call for the FERC to reverse its approval for Weaver’s Cove, Parks stated, “It is inconceivable that (the FERC) issued an order approving Weaver’s Cove without addressing the pressing concerns with which the citizens of Jamestown will be confronted on a daily basis.”

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