LNG forum draws opponents
Spectators crowded a packed auditorium at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Newport campus last Monday night for a panel discussion on the liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Weaver’s Cove – a project that would bring LNG tankers through Narragansett Bay.
The forum, sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, featured three prominent speakers – Hess President Gordon Shearer, Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone and Evan Smith, president of the Newport Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau – all of whom answered prepared questions ranging from economic impact to the potential dangers surrounding the massive tankers.
State Rep. Ray Gallison of Bristol, who is one of the project’s strongest opponents, said the packed venue didn’t surprise him.
“People are finally realizing this proposal has a negative economic and environmental impact upon people in this area,” he said from his seat in the audience, adding that he believed the forum was a worthy idea because, “hopefully, it will allow people to learn more about the problems the tankers will cause.”
The panel first answered a question on the actual need for a LNG terminal.
Discussion swung back and forth, as both sides spoke cordially.
Stone said that this terminal would be the fifth in New England and that there is already a wealth of natural gas in the region, adding that there is “no clear compelling need for another LNG terminal.”
Shearer said Rhode Island has the highest natural gas prices in the country and is among the highest in its energy rates.
“We did not pick this location by accident,” he said.
Shearer was adamant that Rhode Island residents stand to benefit from the terminal in the form of lower natural gas costs, more jobs and an increase in tax revenue.
As for the safety of LNG terminals and tankers, two elements must be considered, according to the panel: Safety for recreational boaters and the potential threat of an explosion.
Shearer said his company would do its best to avoid navigating the tankers up the bay during peak hours, and would eventually work to include night shipping. He also commented on the closing of the Mt. Hope and Newport Pell Bridges, adding that the decision to close the bridges was made by the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority.
Shearer said that the Pell Bridge would be closed for approximately 12 minutes at a time – a number that Smith refuted.
Stone noted that 2,500 commercial vessels use the bay annually, but none of them require the strict – and expansive – security “blanket” zone that LNG ships require. At a maximum level, two miles in front of the ship, one mile behind, and 1,000 yards on either side must be cleared for the ships to pass.
“The Narragansett Bay is our greatest natural resource, our greatest economic resource,” Stone told the audience, adding that he was not prepared to forfeit such a large swath of water for private gains.
He then turned to concerns about the water’s ecosystem, particularly the spawning of winter flounder.
“Mt. Hope Bay is the most productive corner of one of the most productive estuaries in the country,” he said, voicing his opposition to the proposed dredging that would take place to fit the three-story, 150-foot-platform.
The dredging would permanently destroy about 73 acres of ecosystem, drastically altering the complexion of marine life in the Mt. Hope portion of the bay.
A handful of Jamestown residents attended the meeting, and all who attended seemed to share similar viewpoints on the project.
Ellen Winsor, a member of Jamestown’s Town Council, said she felt the forum served its intended purpose.
She was concerned not only about the safety and environmental impacts of LNG tankers traveling the bay, but also about the effects on Jamestown residents’ lives.
“The bridge is going to close. There will be inevitable disruptions to others’ lives. The people who speak up don’t want this,” she said of the large number of attendees who voiced their opposition to the project.
Winsor started a think tank in Jamestown to oppose the move, and she said her plans looking forward consist of uniting all the communities involved.
“We’re trying to get one legal team that represents, as a beacon, all the communities,” she said after the meeting. She declined to comment on who the legal counsel might be.
Save the Bay’s Stone commented on Jamestown’s unique situation in the fight against LNG, saying the bridge closures and loss of recreational waters in the East Passage could have huge implications for island residents.
According to Stone, the town is one of the most important in his plans to thwart the proposed terminal.
“Jamestown has really been at the forefront with this,” he said, adding that steadfast support will be important looking forward.
“Eventually, this is going to be a political fight, and people really have to care,” he said.
After speaking on the panel, island resident Evan Smith took a minute to talk about the proposed terminal’s impact on Jamestown.
“I tried to articulate two things: Lifestyle issues and issues with travel and tourism,” he said about his presentation. In addition to safety and environmental concerns, Smith said the terminal could eliminate an industry vital to the community – marine recreation, which “generates hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.