2010-09-09 / Front Page

Island hosts first LNG Congress of Councils

By Geoff Campbell

LNG specialty lawyer Dianne Phillips speaks before more than 120 people attending the Congress of Councils held Wednesday morning at the Jamestown Recreation Center. Photos by Jeff McDonough LNG specialty lawyer Dianne Phillips speaks before more than 120 people attending the Congress of Councils held Wednesday morning at the Jamestown Recreation Center. Photos by Jeff McDonough The Jamestown Town Council hosted the inaugural “Congress of Councils” on Wednesday morning at the Jamestown Recreation Center.

The Warren, Kickemuit, Little Compton, Jamestown, Fall River, Newport, Middletown, North Kingstown and Portsmouth town councils were represented in an audience that numbered more than 120.

Prior to the meeting, Dan Wright, chair of the Jamestown LNG Threat Committee, said the goal of the meeting was “to create an environment in which a strategic plan can be developed.”

Dick Lynn, a member of the Threat Committee, was tasked with organizing the event, which was the vision of Jamestown Town Council vice president Robert Bowen, he said. Bowen served as the event’s moderator.

Jamestown Town Council member Bob Bowen and LNG Threat Committee member Dick Lynn Jamestown Town Council member Bob Bowen and LNG Threat Committee member Dick Lynn U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke first, acknowledging fellow elected officials and candidates in the audience, including State Representative Deb Ruggiero, R.I. State Senator Lou DiPalma, and gubernatorial candidates Frank Caprio and Lincoln Chafee.

Whitehouse said he was opposed to the Weaver’s Cove proposal because of the planned use of 4.2 miles of cryogenic pipeline, which he described as “untested technology.”

The plan, he added, puts “Narragansett Bay, the heart of Rhode Island” at risk.

Whitehouse commended the efforts of local town councils and the congressional delegations from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which he said are united against the Weaver’s Cove proposal.

Whitehouse also warned the audience not to assume that efforts by Barney Frank and others to amend an energy appropriation bill will necessarily result in the termination of the LNG proposal.

R.I. Attorney General Patrick Lynch R.I. Attorney General Patrick Lynch He described the U.S. Senate as being in a “state of considerable seizure,” and added that it is not particularly likely that any appropriations bills will pass in the near future.

But, he said, “there are many opportunities to draw attention to the flaws in the Hess LNG proposal.”

Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, spoke next, adding that the Hess LNG plan “should not have been allowed to get this far.”

The federal Dept. of Transportation rejected Hess’s mathematical model employed in the plan, and the Dept. of the Interior commented that the plan appears to be inconsistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The Fish and Game Commissions of both Rhode Island and Massachusetts are weighing in with concerns of their own, and the Coast Guard recently rejected a formal appeal by Hess because the waterway between Sandy Point and Fall River was deemed unsuitable for LNG traffic, according to Stone.

Evan Smith Evan Smith Stone spoke to “market factors” indicating that “the profit opportunity has collapsed.”

Four terminals serve New England, he said, and during the question-and-answer portion of the program, he said that three out of four of those facilities are operating at “10% under capacity.”

R.I. Attorney General Patrick Lynch expressed his frustration over the length of time he has engaged in opposing the Hess facility on behalf of the people of Rhode Island – describing it as “a fight of a thousand paper cuts.”

He urged attendees to stand united because “I fear that we have a long, long, way to go,” he said.

Lynch also reminded the audience that 70 transports a year of LNG tankers to the proposed facility would mean 140 bridge closures on both the Newport Pell and Mt. Hope bridges.

He added that 43 acres of seabed would be excavated at the bottom of the Bay to create a turning basin, and an additional 40 acres of the Bay would be used for a three-story docking facility.

The final approach to the facility in Fall River would include 4.2 miles of cryogenic pipe laid in the seabed, he said.

Evan Smith, executive director of the Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau, quoted a study that was compiled by Global Insights, which spoke to the value of tourism to the people of Rhode Island.

According to Smith, tourism is the fourth largest industry in Rhode Island, and each visitor generates $333 of the state’s gross product.

Smith, citing potentially frequent and lengthy bridge closures, said that there would be significant loss in tax revenue and business income if tourists sought alternative vacation locations due to frustration over the enforcement of a safety and security zone required for LNG tanker traffic.

The final speaker of the program was Dianne Phillips, an environmental advocacy lawyer and partner at Holland and Knight. Phillips, who serves as counsel for the city of Fall River, said, “It is not too late to get involved.”

She added that it is Fall River’s position that the Hess LNG plan “will not proceed because it cannot meet the legal standards regarding the permits.”

Phillips explained the multilayer permitting process, which includes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency, joined by cooperating agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers. She further added that the FERC certificate that was granted in 2005 contained 77 conditions.

Compliance with the Coastal Management Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and state wetlands acts are among the issues for Hess, according to Phillips.

She said that proving compliance with the exclusion zone regulations would be difficult.

“We think that they will never be able to satisfy that [exclusion zone] condition,” she said, because “it is not a safe location under the DOT siting rules.”

Phillips summarized Fall River’s position, saying that law and science say the plan cannot and should not be permitted.

The Congress of Councils concluded with a question-and-answer period. Questions concerned next steps, and opportunities for involvement. One question suggested a social justice approach to the issue – “Would state and local governments be willing to explore divestment of Hess stock from their retirement funds?”

A second Congress of Councils may take place in October, hosted by towns on Aquidneck Island.

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