2006-06-15 / News

Council members hear from Save The Bay about LNG port opposition

Curt Spalding says Coast Guard will hold hearings in September
By Dotti Farrington

More calls for renewed action to oppose liquid natural gas activities were voiced at the Monday's Town Council meeting, with the latest actions being led off by Curt Spalding, executive director of Save The Bay.

Noting that he was invited by Councilman William Kelly to present a review of proposed LNG storage facilities in the region, Spalding said that earlier that day the U.S. Coast Guard had announced that it would conduct public hearings about the impacts of the revised LNG tanker transportation plans for the Weaver's Cove proposal for Fall River, Mass.

Spalding said the hearings will be opportunities to present new data and review relevant concerns about the LNG activities. Dates for the hearings are not set yet, he noted.

He outlined plans to reinforce opposition to the dredging of 3 million cubic yards from the Taunton River near its merging with Narragansett Bay. Spalding said the proposed dredging "destroys a healthy bottom and will have serious impacts."

Spalding said Save The Bay's most intesive efforts would be in opposing the dredging His organization was also working to help co-ordinate and reinforce the efforts of others in opposing to the LNG plans.

Both Spalding and Jamestown Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch emphasized the importance of all LNG opponents being aware that the KeySpan LNG terminal proposal for Providence continues to be pursued. KeySpan's application was denied on the federal level because its proposed site was too small, but company efforts are underway to provide the space needed to gain the approval of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, Harsch said.

Last year, the FERC approved the Weaver's Cove application and it has rejected appeals for rehearings in recent months. However, last week the FERC issued an order saying it would consider reopening the appeals. If that order had not been issued, the possibility of rehearings would have been closed this week, according to the FERC.

The latest Weaver's Cove plan calls for smaller LNG tankers because of a legislative decision to not demolish the Fall River Brightman Bridge. Its demolition would have enabled tankers about 1,000 feet long to be used. Using smaller tankers would double to triple the number of trips through Narragansett Bay to Fall River. The increased number of trips combined with existing security and safety concerns is forming a base for renewed opposition.

Spalding said that the smaller vessels represented more frequent dangers along Narragansett Bay and the Taunton River, while the Weaver's Cove promoters were suggesting the smaller tankers represented more safety.

He said about 12 energy companies in the Northeast are vying

to serve the energy needs of New England with LNG or related energy, but only one or two terminals are needed.

Save The Bay recently took security experts on a tour of the waterways that would be used by the LNG tankers so they could see firsthand what the impacts and problems would be, Spalding said. He apologized for not including Jamestown officials in the event and promised that island officials henceforth would be advised about all activities and efforts pertaining to LNG in the region.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski said that state and other opposition leaders have not maintained contact with Jamestown officials since the council voted against spending $25,000 on legal costs of fighting the Providence and Fall River projects. She noted that the decision was about the town's finances and not about its commitment to work against the LNG plans.

She also suggested that bay communities could co-ordinate a boycott in which they would refuse to supply police and fire personnel to provide security for the LNG tankers as a way to force the Coast Guard to admit it cannot provide the required security. The Coast Guard has said extensive security on water and on land would be necessary for every trip each LNG tanker makes.

Spalding said that possibility should be explored for presentation at the upcoming hearings. Some communities have said they are concerned about funds to provide local security, and about having enough personnel to provide the security.

In his update on LNG matters, Harsch said that Rhode Island's share of federal Homeland Security grants have been cut in half, leaving some towns without any funding. The cut "may have impacts on the state's and Jamestown's ability to provide tanker security, whether to KeySpan or Weaver's Cove," he noted.

Harsch also emphasized the role of the state Coastal Resources Management Council in forcing Weaver's Cove to provide information for a jurisdictional review the CRMC must make. The LNG company is challenging the request for data. Other legal actions are also pending, he noted.

Councilors last month directed Harsch, who was a special assistant attorney general for the FERC some years ago, to continue to monitor activities regarding LNG proposals both in Providence and Fall River, and to be prepared to file a brief in midJuly regarding the Fall River appeal in federal court.

The Providence plan is in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. The KeySpan owners are seeking to overturn the FERC denial, especially if opponents to the Fall River plan are successful. Approval of the Weaver's Cove project is facing at least three challenges in the First (Federal) Circuit Court of Appeals. The challenges are coming from the city of Fall River, the Conservation Law Foundation, and jointly from the Attorney Generals of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The councilors assigned Harsch to prepare a short statement as the town's brief and they plans to adopt it at their July 10 meeting.

So far, the town has paid about $600 for all LNG-related legal work and the cost for the brief would be about $250.

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