LNG officials: FERC study backs terminal

Posted May 19, 2009, at 8:28 p.m.

ROBBINSTON, Maine — Federal regulators have released a draft environmental impact statement on a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in which they indicate that, with mitigation measures, the project would have “less-than-significant” environmental impacts on the surrounding area.

Officials with Downeast LNG, which hopes to build a terminal with a daily output capacity of 500 million cubic feet in the village of Mill Cove, say that the draft impact statement is a “major step forward” in the approval of the project.

“The [draft environmental impact statement] is validation that this is a viable, responsible, environmentally sound project, which is what we have been saying all along,” Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG, said Friday in a prepared statement. “As expected, there are some conditions that we need to address, but nothing that is insurmountable or unreasonable as we continue to move forward through the approval process.”

According to Rob Wyatt, environment and permits director for the firm, Downeast LNG still has to get final approval from federal regulators and separate approval from the state before they can begin work on the project. It should help resolve many issues for state officials who still have to give their OK to the project before it can go forward.

“It will be huge,” Wyatt said Monday during an interview at the firm’s local office on Route 1. “To a thoughtful, fair and objective member [of the state Board of Environmental Protection], it’s going to answer a lot of questions. The bottom line is the state has the final say.”

Downeast LNG withdrew its state application to the Board of Environmental Protection in November 2007 after it said it needed more time to gather information and to iron out some details about the terminal and the 30-mile pipeline that would connect it to an existing pipeline in Baileyville.

Wyatt said Tuesday that he hopes to start meeting with state agencies sometime next month to begin developing Downeast LNG’s state application. He said he anticipates starting with the state application process from scratch and hopes to submit the firm’s application to the Board of Environmental Protection sometime this fall.

The state review process should take about a year, he said. There likely will be state officials who are familiar with Downeast’s previous application, he said, which could help move the new application along a little faster than it otherwise would.

“I’d like to think it could be faster than that,” Wyatt said.

But a group opposed to the development of LNG terminals on Passamaquoddy Bay on Tuesday said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report is “preliminary and incomplete.”

Save Passamaquoddy Bay said that issues raised in the report indicate the project will have negative effects on local people and on the surrounding area.

“To reasonable citizens, the word ‘mitigation’ is a warning sign,” Save Passamaquoddy Bay spokeswoman Linda Godfrey wrote Tuesday in a prepared comment e-mailed to the Bangor Daily News. “Responsible job creation does not violate industry best safe practices and place thousands of citizens in federally-defined hazard zones like the proposed Downeast LNG and other LNG projects would in Passamaquoddy Bay.”

In the FERC report, which was released last Friday and is more than an inch thick, FERC officials indicate that construction and operation of the terminal on the shore of Passamaquoddy Bay would result in some adverse environmental impacts but that most of those impacts can be reduced if Downeast LNG implements some of its own proposed mitigation measures and others proposed by FERC.

FERC officials indicate that the project, if built, likely will affect water bodies and wetlands, wildlife and fish habitat, nearby homes, visual and cultural resources, commercial and recreational boating activity and safety.

Among the mitigation measures proposed for the project are using forward-watching whale spotters on the LNG tankers, creating tree and vegetation buffers along Route 1 and the shore of Passamaquoddy Bay, painting the LNG storage tanks a neutral color to reduce their visibility and installing night-sky friendly lighting.

FERC also wants Downeast LNG to continue to consult with representatives of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, local Canadian and American fishing associations, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the U.S. Coast Guard, and state and local emergency response agencies to reduce the impact on and risks to the surrounding area. The federal agency also is calling for the federal Fisheries & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state historic preservation officials to review the proposal before physical work on the project can begin.

In January, the Coast Guard issued a report that said the proposed route through Canadian waters into Passamaquoddy Bay will be safe for LNG tanker traffic, provided Downeast LNG takes steps to reduce navigational safety and maritime security risks.

FERC has scheduled a meeting next month for people to submit public comments on the draft environmental impact statement. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, in the cafeteria of the Robbinston elementary school on Route 1. Public comments on the document must be submitted to FERC before July 6, 2009.

Downeast LNG is one of three developers hoping to construct an LNG terminal on the Washington County side of Passamaquoddy Bay. Quoddy Bay LNG hopes to build a larger terminal at Split Rock on Passamaquoddy tribal land at Pleasant Point, while Calais LNG hopes to build one on the St. Croix River in Calais.

Information about the document and the FERC review and public comment periods can be found at www.ferc.gov. Downeast LNG’s official Web site is www.downeastlng.com. The Web site for Save Passamaquoddy Bay is www.savepassamaquoddybay.org.

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