2010-03-18 / Front Page

LNG rises on Town Council ‘radar screen’

School bus parking solution may be near
By Phil Zahodiakin

State and local opposition to a liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Mt. Hope Bay was a dominant topic during the Jamestown Town Council’s meeting last Monday.

Congressional efforts against the berthing and off-loading terminal, which would be built by Weaver’s Cove Energy, were also discussed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could issue its environmental impact statement on the proposal any day now, and a favorable EIS would pave the way to a FERC permit for the facility.

Council member Ellen Winsor, who has been an outspoken opponent of the facility, urged local residents to attend a LNG forum at the Community College of Rhode Island in Newport on Monday, March 29.

“We should pay attention to this important event,” Winsor said. “It would be wonderful if Jamestowners turned out in force.”

That forum will be hosted by the Alliance for a Livable Newport. Its participants, Winsor said, will include Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone and Weaver’s Cove CEO Gordon Shearer.

Council member Bob Bowen said that he and other Jamestown councilors planned to attend, add- ing, “We will have an opportunity to talk to folks from other town councils” about the language of a joint resolution against the facility.

The joint resolution was drafted by the Jamestown LNG Working Group and was offered for council adoption by Winsor. The draft was turned aside in favor of a more narrowly focused resolution previously adopted by the General Assembly.

However, Winsor said she still believes that coastal communities – if not all Rhode Island towns – should be signatories to a joint resolution opposing the facility.

To that end, she said, she would ask the Senate LNG Task Force to foster support for a collective resolution by faxing the Working Group resolution to town councils representing communities in and around Narragansett Bay.

She also alerted the council to a development in Fall River, Mass., where the LNG storage tanks would be built.

“One of their council members, Leo Pelletier, wants the city to accept a $5 million donation from Weaver’s Cove,” she said, adding that its purpose would be to reemploy out-of-work firemen and police.

“There is a lot of union pressure” to accept the money, Winsor said.

In nearby Bristol, the council there adopted a resolution endorsing a House bill that would prohibit ships longer than 150 feet, and carrying dangerous cargoes, from passing below state bridges if they didn’t have at least 25 feet of clearance under the span.

The Jamestown council agreed to draft and adopt a similar resolution.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., “our congressional delegation has signed on to a bill that would take away the unilateral decision-making authority of the FERC,” said Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, adding that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed recently sent him a letter outlining the many efforts he has pursued in opposition to the proposed facility.

In other Town Council business – and a much more local development – Keiser said that a solution to the problem of school bus parking may be near.

In a March 4 letter from the Department of Transportation, Keiser said, RIDOT indicated that it is favorably disposed to consider a Jamestown request for a license to park 10 school buses at the parkand ride lot on Boston Neck Road – just off Rt. 138.

Currently, the buses are parked at the former town hall at 44 Southwest Ave. – a temporary solution because the property is for sale.

Keiser said that the state wouldn’t charge a fee for the use of the park-and-ride lot, thereby saving the Jamestown School Dept. the estimated $35,000 it would cost to rent parking space elsewhere. The town would, however, have to secure liability insurance.

The RIDOT Properties Committee will formally review the licensing request on March 29.

There was less unanimity over the most recent results of groundwater monitoring in and around the former town landfill. The findings for the fourth quarter of 2009, which are available on the Town website, “don’t indicate any exceedances of health and safety standards,” Keiser said.

However, in public comments to the council, resident Susan Little said, “It’s not as if they haven’t found anything.”

Little noted that sampling from various areas around the landfill has detected such inorganic contaminants as barium, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, nickel and selenium – and such organic contaminants as chlorobenzene.

Keiser replied that “no one disputes that a wide variety of materials were disposed of at the landfill, but the levels of organic and inorganic constituents don’t rise to the threshold of a health threat.

“They are present only in trace amounts,” Keiser continued. “That’s not to say we’re out of the woods. But the [findings] show that conditions at the site continue to improve.”

Little argued, however, that in one sampling area, the levels of cadmium were twice the maximum contaminant level, or MCL, set by the EPA as the safety threshold for groundwater pollutants.

Keiser maintained that “MCLs have never been exceeded” in groundwater tested near the landfi ll; at that point, Council President Mike Schnack said that the public forum period was not the proper venue for debate.

In other business, the council:

• Slated for its April 5 meeting a discussion on the options and costs for immediate improvements to the restroom and showers at Ft. Getty. Keiser noted that National Grid “has made substantial improvements to the conductors” – although no one knows if the repairs will prevent a recurrence of electrical shocks until the campers return.

• Agreed to support a Westerly resolution opposing mandatory binding arbitration if negotiations with teachers reach an impasse – as proposed in 2009 by an unsuccessful bill. Schnack said, “We should draft a resolution” opposing any future bill to mandate binding arbitration. However, School Committee Chairperson Catherine Kaiser said the bill of greatest concern to her would allow the terms of contracts to remain in force after contracts expired.

• Slated for April 5 a decision on the future of the Wind Energy Committee, which, because of resignations, was down to three members. “We need to discuss whether we should disband the committee, or re-charge it and look for new members,” Schnack said.

• Accepted the selection of a contractor, Arnold Robinson, to decide which of the 85 houses on Shoreby Hill would qualify for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Town Planner Lisa Bryer reminded the council that a National Register designation would not impose any regulatory restrictions on the properties.

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