LNG tanker traffic gets OK

Posted Jan. 07, 2009, at 8:12 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Coast Guard says waters leading to a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Robbinston are suitable for tanker traffic provided that steps are taken to reduce risks.

The determination issued Wednesday followed a review that focused on navigational safety in Head Harbor Passage, Passamaquoddy Bay and other waters leading to the $400 million terminal that Downeast LNG wants to build at Mill Cove.

“It’s good that the Coast Guard issued the waterway suitability report,” said Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG. “We’ll be re-energized and moving forward with the state.”

As proposed, Downeast LNG would build a 320,000-cubic-meter liquefied natural gas import terminal, storage tanks and regasification plant on an 80-acre site at Mill Cove.

The waterway suitability review is a key element in the draft Environmental Impact Statement that is being prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and which should be released within a couple of months, Girdis said. Downeast LNG originally had expected that the Coast Guard would complete its suitability re-port months ago, he added.

“It took longer than anyone had anticipated,” Girdis said. “We’ll file [a new permit application] with the state in the spring sometime after we receive the draft EIS.”

Downeast LNG had temporarily withdrawn its permit application proposal with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in November 2007, citing the need to obtain additional information.

Another firm, Quoddy Bay LNG withdrew its state applications in October to build on Passamaquoddy tribal land at Pleasant Point, though company officials said they planned to refile. Yet another proposal by Calais LNG for a terminal in Washington County is still in the early stages of the regulatory process.

According to a statement issued Wednesday by U.S. Coast Guard officials, “the waterway proposed for use by vessel traffic associated with the Downeast LNG Inc., liquefied natural gas facility … is suitable provided that recommended risk mitigation measures outlined in a supporting waterway suitability report are fully implemented.”

Downeast LNG would need to develop operating procedures that are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and coordinated with the Canadian government to “enable the safe and secure movement of LNG tankers through Canadian and U.S. waters,” according to the waterway suitability report.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s review focused on navigational safety and maritime security risks posed by LNG traffic. The waterway includes the waters of Head Harbor Passage, Western Passage and Passamaquoddy Bay, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Among the safety requirements, LNG tankers would have to have a minimum of two miles of visibility in U.S. waters and could not operate when sustained wind speeds are higher than 25 knots. An ample distance also would have to be maintained between loaded, inbound LNG carriers and other vessels in Head Harbor Passage and Western Passage.

Despite the favorable suitability report, opponents of the project don’t see an easy road to its completion.

“Study of the entire 100-page USCG’s Waterway Suitability Assessment is necessary to fully comprehend the long list of conditions and requirements that have been set for possible LNG transit of Passamaquoddy Bay,” Linda Godfrey of Save Passamaquoddy Bay said in a statement. “The devil is in the details of this Washing-ton-created document, with huge hurdles for the proposed developer. This is a very complex international and domestic issue in an area with severe geographic, meteorological, economic, traditional and local constraints.”

Godfrey’s husband, Bob, also stressed in a telephone interview Wednesday night that the Canadian government would never approve passage of LNG tankers through Head Harbor Passage.

In 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly told President Bush that Canada would not permit tankers through the narrow waterway that Canada considers internal waters.

Girdis said that despite the snail’s pace progression of the project, which began in 2004, he is still firmly behind Downeast LNG.

“We’re very committed to the people of Maine, particularly the people of Washington County and Robbinston. There’s a lot of support at the local level,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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