June 25, 2008

Hearing Set on Offshore LNG Terminal

By Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal, R.I.

Jun. 24--After suffering a series of setbacks since receiving conditional federal approval three years ago to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River, Weaver's Cove Energy came back this year with an alternative proposal. It would float an off-loading facility in the middle of Mount Hope Bay.

Public officials, including Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, have already spoken out against the latest incarnation of a plan to transport LNG to the region in massive tanker ships.

Now, residents in the East Bay and Southeastern Massachusetts will have the chance to comment on the offshore terminal. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will hold public hearings on the proposal tonight and tomorrow, in Bristol and Swansea, respectively.

Under the new plan, Weaver's Cove would situate the 1,200-foot berth in Somerset waters, about a mile from the nearest shore. Tankers would dock at the facility and unload LNG, which would be piped to a re-gasification plant at the site in Fall River's west end originally targeted for the company's $250-million marine terminal. The 4-mile pipeline connecting to the re-gasification facility would be buried in a trench at the bottom of Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River.

Weaver's Cove came up with the new plan after failing to win approval for key aspects of its initial proposal.

In August 2007, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management denied an application to dredge a portion of Mount Hope Bay to clear the way for tanker ships that would travel north from Narragansett Bay.

And last October, in a significant blow to the project, the Coast Guard found that it was too risky to allow LNG tankers to traverse parts of the Taunton River because of the closeness of the old and new Brightman Street bridges. Last month, the Coast Guard denied the company's appeal of that decision.

By building a terminal in Mount Hope Bay, tankers would not need to go as far north as the Brightman Street bridges. Weaver's Cove officials say the offshore facility would satisfy the Coast Guard's concerns.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has come up with a preliminary list of issues that may be of concern. They include:

--The impact of the offshore berth and LNG ship traffic on other Mount Hope Bay users, including fishing and recreational boaters.

--Safety issues relating to LNG ship traffic at the berth and LNG transfer pipelines.

--Potential impacts on residents in the project area, including safety issues at the berth, noise, air quality, and visual resources.

--Project impacts on marine resources and their associated habitats, including dredging impacts.

The new proposal comes as Weaver's Cove is seeking a five-year extension to a federal permit to build a terminal in Fall River. The permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was issued in 2005 and is set to expire in 2010. The extension, which the company requested last week, is opposed by local and state officials who are fighting to kill the project.

Tonight's hearing at Mt. Hope High School, in Bristol, will begin at 7. The hearing tomorrow, which also starts at 7 p.m., will be held at the Venus de Milo restaurant, in Swansea.

Comments made at the hearings will be used in preparing a draft environmental impact statement on the offshore project.


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