2009-08-13 / Front Page

Jamestown officials outline LNG concerns

By Phil Zahodiakin

As a long-standing proposal to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) up the East Passage gains momentum, so does concern about potential disruptions in and around Jamestown. A recent Coast Guard conclusion that an LNG terminal would not pose navigational risks if it were sited in Mt. Hope Bay has increased the possibility that the project will win a federal permit.

Under the proposal from Weaver’s Cove Energy, LNG tankers would use the East Passage for the journey to the terminal, which would be built a mile from the Fall River shoreline. Whenever a loaded tanker steamed north, both the Pell and Mt. Hope bridges would have to be closed as the ships approached and departed.

“First and foremost are the safety concerns about the volatility of the cargo, and the risk of either an accident or terrorist activity that could ignite the ship, which would have devastating consequences for any nearby communities,” said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.

“In addition to the safety issues,” Keiser said, “we are also concerned about [navigational prohibitions when loaded LNG tankers steam north] because the East Passage is very heavily trafficked by recreational boaters throughout the course of the summer, and any restrictions on the free and unfettered use of our waters is something that we strenuously object to. We don’t think those waters should be reserved for commercial interests, which would deprive recreational boaters of the opportunity to use the bay during our few short months of favorable boating weather.”

Moreover, due to security concerns, the schedule for LNG shipments would not be announced in advance – which means that long-planned events would inevitably be disrupted shortly before, or even after, they start. All loaded LNG tankers sailing through busy waters are surrounded by exclusion zones, which typically prohibit boat traffi c from coming any closer than a mile astern, two miles ahead and 1,000 feet to port and starboard.

Consequently, the flotilla of boats anchored off Ft. Adams during music festivals would presumably be ordered to immediately disperse if a LNG tanker was approaching the East Passage within 1,000 feet of the fort. In addition, “We have numerous sailing regattas during the course of the summer and they could be substantially curtailed or disrupted without notice,” Keiser said.

Dave Blydenburg, dockmaster for Conanicut Marine Services, is concerned about the exclusion zones as well. Providing a host of services to boaters in Jamestown harbor, Conanicut Marine also offers moorings, and Blydenburg suspects that the outer edge of exclusion zones established for Weaver’s Cove tankers “could cross our moorings.

“If they do,” Blydenburg said, “then anyone requesting a launch to bring them ashore would obviously have to wait out the tanker. But [the exclusion zones] could have other impacts [on recreational boaters]; for example, if someone was trying to duck into harbor ahead of a storm, and there was a tanker coming into the bay, they would have to wait, too. Or, if there were some emergency out in the passage while a tanker was passing, we wouldn’t be allowed to go out there.”

Blydenburg wondered if “the [Coast Guard] and [the Department of Environmental Management] will have the manpower to strictly enforce the exclusion zone.” However, all of the details involving security for LNG shipments passing through Narragansett Bay remain unknown. None has been publicly revealed, and all such information was redacted from the Coast Guard letter announcing its conclusions on an off-shore terminal.

Because the security details remain cloaked in secrecy, it was difficult for Jamestown Police Chief Thomas Tighe to predict the impacts of LNG shipments on his force. During Pell Bridge closures for shipments of compressed natural gas, “Basically, the state police comes in and closes the bridge while the tanker is passing below and we haven’t been asked to do anything other than assisting them with closing the bridge.”

Chief Tighe has had an opportunity to observe a LNG tanker steaming away from another U.S. port, and, during that visit, “The only security we were seeing was that the police from two communities would ride along the shoreline as close as they could to the water to make sure everything was okay. But, I haven’t seen any plans as to what would be entailed for our department and what kind of shoreline security they would ask for.”

Currently, the Jamestown police force has 15 officers, including the chief.

“At any given time, if no one is out sick, we have three people involved with our regular patrols: two cars and the dispatcher,” he said. Would the allocation of additional officers to shoreline security as many as four times a week place a significant personnel burden on the force? Chief Tighe declined to speculate because, he said, “I just don’t know what our role in shoreline security would be.”

Opportunities to comment on the LNG proposal

The next significant opportunity to comment on the Weaver’s Cove proposal for a LNG terminal in Mt. Hope Bay will come when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission publishes a draft environmental impact statement for the project. The EIS, which is expected in September, will be available at the e-library page of the FERC web site at http:// www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp. To view public comments and other documents relating to the previous Weaver’s Cove proposal, go to the FERC site, click on “advanced search,” type “Weaver’s Cove” into “text search” and click submit.

Comments on the proposal can also be sent to members of the Rhode Island and Jamestown congressional delegation by calling or emailing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (202) 224-2921, http://whitehouse. senate.gov/contact/; Sen. Jack Reed, (202) 224-4642, http://reed.senate.gov/contact/contactshare. cfm or Rep. Patrick Kennedy (202) 225-4911, https://forms.house.gov/formpatrickkennedy/IMA/ contact.htm.

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