2010-04-22 / Front Page

Town forms panel to review LNG threat

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council this week adopted a plan to address the controversial proposal to build a liquefied natural gas berthing and offloading facility in Mt. Hope Bay.

The three-part plan was enacted on April 19. It approves the formation of a five-member LNG Threat Committee to keep the council informed of developments in the Weaver’s Cove Energy endeavor to obtain a permit for the facility.

It also calls on Jamestown to host a “congress of town councils” in which Newport County councilors would meet to ratify a joint resolution stating the opposition of county communities against the LNG proposal.

Lastly, an existing LNG panel – the Jamestown-based LNG Working Group – will be invited to share its assessment of the proposed LNG facility in a presentation to the Jamestown Town Council.

The council didn’t decide on a charge for the Threat Committee; however, as council member Bob Bowen observed, its formation will “send a signal that Jamestown is serious about this issue.”

The LNG Working Group is comprised of experts in various fields, and council President Michael Schnack commended that panel for its interest in the LNG issue, but said, “We need a group of our own.”

Council member Ellen Winsor, who founded the LNG Work- ing Group, questioned whether five Threat Committee members would be enough to tackle the many different issues raised by the proposed facility.

“Such a small group for such a large task,” she said, arguing that most, if not all, of the LNG Working Group members should be included on the Threat Committee roster.

But Schnack replied that the committee would be too large if the LNG Working Group members were brought aboard, adding, “We don’t know anything about the people on the Working Group, and I understand that some of them aren’t Jamestown residents” – which would preclude them from serving on the Threat Committee, under the rules of the Town Charter.

The Threat Committee would elect its own chairperson, and its members will serve three-year terms – allowing them to continue working during the legal challenges that will surely arise if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues Weaver’s Cove a permit to build the facility.

FERC Press Officer Tamara Young-Allen told the Press that the agency hasn’t issued a decision schedule for the Weaver’s Cove application, and she declined to speculate when the agency would issue its draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will assess the ecological risks of a LNG facility in Mt. Hope Bay.

Interested observers had previously expressed the opinion that the draft EIS would be published by the end of 2009. Whenever it’s issued, FERC will provide only 45 days for the public to review – and respond to – the massive document. However, the council did not discuss the pending EIS or any potential Jamestown response to it.

The council did discuss the possibility of sending a draft resolution along with its invitation to the Newport County councils. It remains unclear, however, if the council will use edited text from a LNG Working Group resolution proposed by Winsor last fall.

That resolution was shot down by the council because, among other reasons, council member Bill Murphy was offended by its reference to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that said Coast Guard resources are insuffi cient to guarantee escorts for 100% of all LNG tanker transits into U.S. ports.

Schnack said that the LNG Working Group resolution could be used as a starting point for discussions by the “congress of councils” if Winsor deletes the offending language and addresses other textual issues of concern.

In other business, the council:

• Approved the text of a draft Wastewater Treatment Facility notice of inspection, advising residents that they will need to make appointments for inspections intended to determine if there are any freshwater connections (such as those from sump pumps) to the town sewer system. The notices will be mailed sometime next week.

• Agreed to consider Winsor’s “think tank” proposal for a committee that would look for ways to fund the $12 million in repairs that the town’s water delivery pipes will need over time. Public Works Department Director Steve Goslee advised the council that “we wouldn’t have much extra water to sell” if the town tried to raise money by expanding the water system; Winsor agreed to draft a charge for the proposed panel.

• Listened to several public comments in support of retaining an animal control officer, although Schnack warned the relatively few ACO advocates in the audience that he would not allow the public forum to be swamped by this issue. One speaker demanded an opportunity to vote on the ACO position at the financial town meeting in June; another said, “I’m not sure this isn’t a ‘witch hunt.’”

• Learned that the town is still in the running for a state renewable energy grant of $750,000 – if not a smaller award – that it would put towards wind turbine construction. Although Jamestown was not listed among the grant recipients recently announced by the governor’s office, Bowen explained that there is still $3.3 million available for grant requests – like Jamestown’s – submitted during a later funding cycle.

• Approved funding to pay for refurbishing both of the bathroom and shower facilities at Ft. Getty. Each of the facilities will have its fixtures, sinks and toilets replaced; its walls and floors re-tiled; and its shower floors overlaid with a fresh surface – all at a cost of $10,000 per facility. The amount of the funding is based on estimates provided to the Parks and Recreation Department; the work will now go out to bid.

• Passed a proclamation honoring Jamestown teachers, along with separate proclamations honoring the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and Town Planner Lisa Bryer, for their response to the “storm of the century” that deluged the island at the beginning of April. Bryer was singled out for working tirelessly to provide meals for “45 hungry, but grateful firefighters” during their prolonged response shifts.

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