2006-09-07 / Front Page

Town Council hears from Weaver's Cove LNG reps

By Donna K. Drago

The welcome mat was not put out for representatives of Weaver's Cove Energy, who came to Jamestown Aug. 30 to make a presentation to the Town Council.

About 80 people filled the library meeting room, including a bus-load of citizens from the Fall River area, carrying large signs and wearing bright orange Tshirts saying, "I am not an acceptable risk."

Town Council Vice-President Julio DiGiando ran the session in the absence of Council President David Long. Councilman Michael Schnack was also not at the meeting.

The hearing gave councilors a chance to ask questions of CEO Gordon Shearer of Weaver's Cove Energy, the company that wants to bring liquid natural gas, or LNG, to a spot on the Taunton River some 21 miles up Narragansett Bay.

Shearer gave the three councilors an overview of the proposed project, and then the councilors, as well as members of the audience, asked a number of questions.

During the presentation, the Fall River group, headed up by Joe Carvalho, served as a Greek chorus, clicking their tongues, hissing, and openly questioning the truthfulness of Shearer's comments.

DiGiando had to remind the audience several times that they were all there to listen, not comment.

Shearer told the group that the reason they want to bring LNG to a port in New England is that most of New England's electricity is generated using natural gas. New Englanders are currently paying the highest prices in the United States for the gas they are using. Gas coming from the Gulf of Mexico is expensive to transport to New England, Shearer said.

He said that one of two things has to happen in the near future: "We have to use less gas, or we have to expand the supply by bringing in more LNG."

"Why Fall River?" Shearer asked and then answered himself. Among the reasons were deep water, at more than 35 feet. It is on a recognized navigational channel. The site is near an existing natural gas pipeline, and the spot is zoned for marine industry. "There are many others," Shearer added.

The proposed plan calls for bringing in 120 ships per year to the Weaver's Cove fuel docks, using ships that are 750 feet long, with a beam of 80 feet and a 36-foot draft. Each ship would travel up and down the bay for a total of about 240 "transits" per year.

The size of the proposed ships has changed in the past year, since Massachusetts Congressman McGovern put a section into the Federal Transportation Bill of 2005 that prohibited the use of federal dollars for the demolition of the more than 100-year-old Brightman Street Bridge, even though a new Brightman Street Bridge is being built. With the old bridge in place, the originally proposed ships, which were 950 feet long with a beam of 145 feet, can no longer be used to transport the fuel, Shearer explained.

"This is how they're going to punish us," Carvalho whispered, noting that the number of transits will more than double as a result of making the ships smaller.

Each of the ships will have a 24-hour turnaround time, Shearer said.

Shearer got more specific about how the transits might

impact Jamestown. He described the "security zone" that would extend two miles in front, one mile behind, and one half mile on either side of each ship. The U.S. Coast Guard would be in charge of inspecting and securing the vessels when they are in the bay, Shearer said. The ships would announce themselves in advance and anyone monitoring marine channel 16 would know their location and estimated time of arrival, he added. "There will be no surprises," Shearer said.

"No, we will not cause the bay to shut down," Shearer said, adding that the company plans to work with the yacht clubs and marine community to make sure that no ships are scheduled for any days when major regattas or other sailing events are scheduled.

In the narrow passage between Ft. Wetherill and Ft. Adams, Shearer said, the Coast Guard will limit all boating traffic for between "12 and 15 minutes" for each transit.

On the Newport Pell Bridge, Shearer said that the position of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to close the bridge during the passing of a LNG tanker "runs contrary to that of public safety agencies." Shearer said he did not know what evidence the bridge authority was basing their decision on.

When it was the council's turn to ask questions, Barbara Szepatowski went first.

She asked who would be responsible for paying for munic

ipal services that would be required during each passage. She noted that with the police force, the union requires that an officer be called in for a minimum four-hour shift even though the ship might only be passing for 15 minutes. Shearer said that Weaver's Cove would work out the specifics with each town.

Szepatowski wanted to know how much insurance the company carries in case of a disaster. Shearer said the individual ships carry their own insurance by Lloyds of London that has "unlimited liability."

Assuming all permits were in place, Szepatowski asked how long would it be before an LNG port could be up and running. Shearer said they could get one operational by the middle of 2010.

"Why not put it offshore?" Szepatowski asked. Shearer said the technology is unproven and that while summer and fall hurricanes can affect LNG operations in the Gulf of Mexico, it would be winter nor'easters that would have the biggest negative impact on a platform off New England. In bad seas, the ships would have to turn around, Shearer said, noting, "If the ship leaves, so does the gas."

Councilman Bill Kelly said he felt Weaver's Cove Energy was being overly optimistic about the local Coast Guard's role in providing security throughout the bay transits. He said there are currently four 27-foot Coast Guard vessels in the area. "I cannot imagine how the Coast Guard will do the jobs they have now plus the added responsibility," Kelly said.

DiGiando told Shearer about the event some months ago when many Jamestown officials toured the Everett, Mass., LNG port to see how a transit operates there.

"We don't have the level of services" that the Chelsea, Mass., police department has, DiGiando said, and "we can't offer to help secure these ships."

DiGiando described Jamestown's 13 member police force and volunteer fire department. "We can't stress them out with this kind of responsibility," DiGiando said about the fire department.

Seemingly frustrated by what he was hearing, DiGiando said, "What's the payback for Jamestown. We don't even use gas here."

Of the audience members who spoke, none was in favor of the proposed LNG terminal.

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