Tankers disrupt boating on the bay
As reported in the June 7 article, "Tanker shuts down Bay for Tuesday night yacht races," the June 5 Jamestown Yacht Club race was canceled when Coast Guard boats closed the East Passage by excluding all traffic from a security zone extending two miles in front, one mile behind, and one thousand yards to either side of an outbound liquid propane gas (LPG) tanker. The Newport Pell Bridge was also closed.
According to Assistant Attorney General Paul Roberti, who is handling the state's effort to prevent construction of a liquid natural gas (LNG) facility in Providence or Fall River, under federal regulations, all passages of tankers carrying LPG, LNG, anhydrous ammonia, or chlorine, will require similar closings of Narragansett Bay and the bridges under which the tankers pass. At present, we have 10 to 12 LPG transits a year.
Mr. Roberti went on to note that LPG is not as volatile as LNG, because it is stored at only -30 degrees F rather than -260 as is LNG. He said, "This means that the LPG vessels can be emptied out completely, whereas the cryogenic steel of the LNG vessels must be maintained at -260 for integrity purposes, and thus outgoing LNG vessels must maintain 3 to 5 million gallons of LNG in the holding containers. That means LNG transits, unlike LPG transits, require security zones for incoming and outgoing transits."
Weaver's Cove, the proponent of the Fall River LNG site, is proposing 130 annual trips, so that the bay would be cleared some 260 times a year for LNG tankers, as well as 10 to 12 times for LPG transits. This would also involve more than 500 closures of the Newport and Mt. Hope bridges.
Note that the bay was apparently closed needlessly on June 5, since it was presumably an empty LPG tanker that was leaving the bay. Perhaps the Coast Guard was misinformed.
Your June 5 article suggested that races could be scheduled around the passage of the tankers. Even if the people involved could rearrange their schedules at the last minute, the tanker departure times are kept secret for security reasons. Weaver's Cove states that they plan tanker transits only for high tide, in daylight, and in good visibility - perfect for disruption of ordinary traffic. Accordingly, we must expect sudden and unplanned disruption of our cherished freedom to go for a boat ride, compete in a race, or reach the Newport Hospital in an emergency situation.
If either of the proposed LNG terminals is built the quality of life as we enjoy it will be profoundly damaged. To oppose their construction on that basis alone, or that plus the rather remote danger of an accident or a successful attack, might be NIMBYism. However, more than quality of life is at stake here. If the bay experiences 260 closures per year, all manner of traffic essential to our economy will be disrupted. Cruise ships operate on tight schedules; they won't come to Newport if they can't count on arriving and departing on time. All manner of tourist vessel traffic relies on the freedom of the bay. Countless high-profile racing yacht programs and regattas are based in Newport. If these things disappear, with the dollars they bring in and the jobs they create, there will be a ripple effect throughout the rest of the economy; real estate values will drop, taxes will have to rise, and so on. It is no exaggeration to say that the economy of the state relies heavily on the prevention of the construction of these LNG terminals.
What can be done? At present, the construction of either terminal looks unlikely, because the Coast Guard has expressed reservations about the safety of navigation of the tankers. However, Weaver's Cove has not given up the fight. Therefore, persons with an interest should write their elected representatives, and their newspapers. Perhaps the Town Council can make a contribution to the legal battle being fought by Mr. Roberti and his colleagues. Our elected officials should take steps to see that the regulations that are effected are sensible, and properly administered; it seems unlikely that clearing a bunch of sailboats away from an empty tanker contributed anything to national security.
Michael de Angeli
Editor's note: the author is the chairman of the town's Harbor Management Commission.