July 9, 2008

Emergency-Response Law Put Shurdle in LNG Port Plan

By Alex Kuffner

Legislation requiring a host of new approvals for any emergency- response plan governing the transportation of liquefied natural gas through Rhode Island waters has become law.

The bill passed into law July 3 without Governor Carcieri's signature. Sponsored by Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, Portsmouth, the law gives the General Assembly and all Rhode Island cities and towns on Narragansett and Mount Hope bays authority over any emergency-response plan for LNG that would be developed by the state Emergency Management Agency.

Gallison introduced the legislation earlier this year to not only give local communities a say in the plan but also to complicate the approvals process for a proposed LNG terminal in the Fall River area.

The local communities would have to sign off on the plan before it could go into effect, said Gallison, one of the leading opponents of Weaver's Cove Energy's plan to either build an LNG terminal in Fall River's north end or put a floating off-loading berth in the middle of Mount Hope Bay.

"Everyone has a say in the emergency-response plan," Gallison said yesterday. "Everyone can look at it."

The affected communities, including Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth and Bristol, would effectively have veto power over the plan; if each of them doesn't sign off on it, it wouldn't go forward, said Gallison.

Without an approved emergency-response plan, Weaver's Cove, or any other company for that matter, would not be able to transport LNG through state waters, he said.

The new law comes as Weaver's Cove is pushing its plan for an off- shore terminal in Mount Hope Bay, about a mile from the nearest shoreline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently held two hearings on the proposal.

According to the plan, Weaver's Cove would build a 1,200-foot- long berth in the bay. Tankers would dock there and unload LNG, which would be piped to a re-gasification plant that would be built in Fall River's north end.

The 4.25-mile pipeline to the plant would be buried in a trench at the bottom of Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River.

The offshore facility was put on the table after the company's original plan -- to build a $250-million marine terminal in Fall River's north end -- encountered a series of obstacles and widespread opposition from nearby residents as well as local and state officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The company had planned to bring supertankers through Narragansett and Mount Hope bays and up the Taunton River, to unload them in Fall River.

It received FERC approval for the project in 2005, but last August, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management denied an application to dredge a portion of Mount Hope Bay to clear the way for the 950-foot tankers.

And in October, the Coast Guard ruled that not even smaller tankers could safely navigate under the Brightman Street Bridge and its replacement span, now under construction between Somerset and Fall River.

Tankers wouldn't need to travel under the bridges to reach the floating terminal because it would be located downstream in Somerset waters, about a mile southwest of Brayton Point.

Gallison testified at both hearings, in Swansea and Bristol. He said yesterday that the new law will be another roadblock in the path of Weaver's Cove.

"This is very important," he said. [email protected] / (401) 277-7457

Originally published by Alex Kuffner, Journal Staff Writer.

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