ROBBINSTON, Maine — If a public meeting Tuesday evening on a proposed local liquefied natural gas terminal had been an election on the project, it would have been approved in a landslide.
Of the 25 people who spoke at the meeting, which federal regulators held to gather public comments about Downeast LNG’s proposal, only four had anything negative to say about it. Approximately 120 people total attended the meeting held at Robbinston Grade School on Route 1.
Most of those who voiced their opinions to federal officials had comments similar to those offered by Lubec resident Felicia Newman, an environmental program manager who used to work for Louisiana Pacific in Washington County but now works for Verso Paper in Bucksport.
“I certainly am in favor of the project,” Newman told officials with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard and US Army Corps of Engineers. “We really need the economic development.”
Gwen Clark, a Robbinston native who attended college in Iowa, said she moved back to eastern Washington County because she missed being near the water. She said she has had many kinds of jobs in order to live in the area and has a daughter in school in Bangor who would like to move back home.
“I would like to see something in this area that is going to bring young people back,” Clark said. “Our youths are leaving because they can’t afford to stay here.”
Tuesday’s meeting was not an election, however, and how much longer the project might take to be approved or denied by FERC is unknown.
The purpose of the meeting was for FERC to gather public comments about a draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, on Downeast LNG’s proposal that the agency released last month, according to FERC Environmental Project Manager Shannon Crosley. The comments, both those submitted orally Tuesday and those submitted in writing before July 6, will be incorporated into the final EIS, which FERC likely will release in September, she said.
Crosley said she is unsure when FERC’s board of commissioners might take up the proposal to give it their final vote. The commissioners set their own schedule, she said.
To move ahead with construction, Downeast LNG will have to get permits not just from FERC, but also from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, to name a few, the federal officials said.
Carl Sapers of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, had another entity to add to that list. Sapers, a member of the Canadian chapter of anti-LNG group Save Passamaquoddy Bay, said Downeast LNG will have to get permission from the Canadian government before any LNG deliveries can occur in Passamaquoddy Bay.
Sapers suggested that this was not likely to happen, since the federal Canadian government and the provincial New Brunswick government both have said they oppose allowing LNG tankers to navigate through the waters of Head Harbour Passage, which connects the Bay of Fundy to Passamaquoddy Bay.
Alan Moore of the Coast Guard told Sapers that the U.S. State Department believes Canada cannot prevent LNG tankers from transiting Head Harbour Passage. He said his agency and FERC are moving ahead with their review of Downeast LNG’s proposal based on the State Department’s position.
Robert Godfrey, a Save Passamaquoddy Bay member from Eastport, briefly addressed federal officials. He said that the draft EIS had “numerous broad omissions and errors” that he planned to comment on in writing before the July 6 deadline.
Madonna Soctomah, a Passamaquoddy tribal elder from Pleasant Point, also spoke against the proposal. She said industrialization is to blame for pollution in the world.
“I would not exchange a paying job for good health,” Soctomah said. “LNG does not provide what we need in this area for our land and for our children.”
Officials in Calais, with competing LNG firm Calais LNG, and with the Sunrise County Economic Council all expressed support for the Downeast LNG terminal, which would be built in the village of Mill Cove.
Harold Clossey, the economic council’s executive director, told officials that the project would be good for Maine and for the region, but especially for Washington County. He said the county cannot afford to have so much of its jobs tied up with relatively few employers such as the Domtar pulp mill in Baileyville, which just resumed operations again after temporarily laying off hundreds of people.
“We can no longer be a one-trick pony,” Clossey said. “We strongly urge FERC to approve this project.”