2006-03-23 / News

Coast Guard, Army Corps have concerns about LNG

By Dotti Farrington

The U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers have reported concerns that could affect the ability of the Hess Company's Weaver Cove Energy to build its proposed $250 million liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River, Mass.

The terminal has attracted widespread opposition, including from Jamestown officials and residents, because of the perceived dangers of giant LNG tankers on Narragansett Bay.

The Coast Guard and Army Corps' actions signaled renewed hope among opponents in the wake of several actions so far this year, most of them representing Weaver Cove going forward with its plans. The terminal was approved last summer by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Hess officials said they are preparing a response to Coast Guard and the Army Corps concerns, and they expect to continue progress on development of the terminal.

Some months ago, Weaver Cove switched to plans for using smaller tankers for the terminal because the Brightman Street Bridge near the proposed terminal site was not going to be removed, as Weaver Cove was planning, and the bridge cannot be used by the originally intended large tankers.

The Coast Guard then reported its findings that the revised plan "affords no margin for navigational error and appears unsuitable in its current state, when considering the intended vessel size, cargo and number of transits." The report has been described by Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch as raising "too many public safety concerns." He commended the Coast Guard for its findings.

The revised plan would triple the number of bridge closures, increase security costs to state and local governments, and cause increased traffic delays and more disruptions of recreational and commercial uses of Narragansett and Mount Hope bays, according to Lynch, based on Coast Guard reports.

The Coast Guard's latest findings puts a hold on its work to create a plan to provide security for the passage of LNG tankers until the new plan meets safety concerns, according to Lynch.

The Coast Guard findings also led to the Army Corps of Engineers to ask the FERC to reopen its environmental review of the proposed terminal. The Army Corps said the Weaver Cove plan to have smaller tankers represented significant enough changes to require a full new review of the impacts of the tankers on navigational considerations.

The Army Corps noted that it had taken part in the environmental impact statement that was mandated as part of the FERC's consideration of the LNG plan.

The change to smaller tankers adds to factors on which the Army Corps was basing its evaluations.

The Army Corps said it needs and is pursuing clarifications from the FERC, the Coast Guard, and Weaver Cove about the expected impacts. The Army Corps is asking the FERC to provide an evaluation of the impacts of the revised operational plan for ship transit and determine whether the EIS "addresses the effects of these changes or if additional analysis must occur." The Army Corps said it needs the FERC's assessments before the it can complete its review.

Tanker size

Involved are 725by 82-foot tankers which would maneuver in a 1,100-foot space between the old and new Brightman Street Bridges and pass within the old bridge's 98-foot opening, where vessels rely on tugboats and are constrained by wind and current factors. Originally, the planned called for using 950by 145-foot tankers.

The Coast Guard is also evaluating the bridge fender system that needs improvement and would further reduce the maneuvering space.

The larger tankers were scheduled to make between 50 and 70 deliveries per year. According to estimates, the smaller tankers would have to make up to twice as many trips.

Weaver Cove made the change after U.S. (Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass.) provided in federal law that the old bridge will be retained after the new bridge is

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