More comment time on LNG plan eyed

Posted June 09, 2009, at 11:24 p.m.

ROBBINSTON, Maine — A group that opposes the development of liquefied natural gas terminals on Passamaquoddy Bay is asking federal regulators to extend the public comment period on a proposed terminal in the village of Mill Cove.

In a motion to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dated June 4, Save Passamaquoddy Bay argues that the current public comment period is not long enough for people who live in the area to weigh in on Downeast LNG’s proposal. The current 45-day comment period on the firm’s draft environmental impact statement, which is set to expire July 6, should be extended for another 90 days beyond that date, according to the document.

“The comment period comes at a time when workers in seasonal industries such as fishing and tourism — the predominant industries in the region and which stand to lose the most from this project — are wholly occupied with their livelihoods,” the group’s attorneys wrote in the motion.

FERC has scheduled a public meeting on the draft environmental impact statement for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, at the local elementary school, which is located on Route 1.

Rob Wyatt, Downeast LNG’s director of environment and permits, on Monday characterized the request as a delaying tactic by Save Passamaquoddy Bay. He said there is nothing substantially different in the environmental impact statement from what the firm submitted to the state in 2007. Downeast LNG ended up withdrawing its state application later that year, with the intent of refiling it at a later date, so it could have more time to gather information and iron out details about the proposed terminal and 30-mile pipeline that would connect the terminal with an existing pipeline in Baileyville.

In an e-mail, Bob Godfrey of the anti-LNG group on Tuesday disputed Wyatt’s claim that the draft EIS is not substantially different from its 2007 state application. He wrote that the draft EIS contains information from numerous government agencies that either is new or “is presented in a new way.”

Godfrey also said that Downeast LNG has delayed its own project. He said the firm has drawn out the overall review process by submitting its state application two years ago and then withdrawing it.

“When it became apparent they would likely have their application denied, they withdrew from the state process,” Godfrey wrote. “They now have to start that process over and have yet to make their application to do so.”

The two men also disagreed about the degree to which the residents of eastern Washington County support or oppose Downeast LNG’s proposal.

Godfrey said thousands of people on both sides of the border live within a potential federally recognized hazard zone that would be created by the construction and operation of the terminal. Many of the project’s supporters, Godfrey wrote, live outside the potential hazard zone area.

Wyatt, however, said people in the area support the project because it would create good jobs. With the recent closure of the Domtar pulp mill in Baileyville and the poor economic state of the fishing industry, he said, people in Washington County are looking for other kinds of work to help boost the number of jobs in the region.

“The folks at Domtar don’t have jobs, the fishermen don’t have jobs,” Wyatt said. “The people are tired of it.”

Wyatt said the only supporting documentation SPB provided to FERC along with its motion is from Shanna Ratner of Vermont-based Yellow Wood Associates, which in 2006 issued a study funded by SPB that predicted LNG terminal development in Washington County likely would have an adverse impact on the region’s economy.

“We’re going to keep moving forward,” Wyatt said. “We’re hoping FERC will not grant the extension.”

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