Hearings ahead for Calais liquid natural gas project

Posted June 30, 2010, at 12:12 a.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The process to bring a $1 billion liquefied natural gas facility to the city is moving along quickly this summer, with a series of public hearings set before the Calais Planning Board and the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

“The process seems to be moving quite smoothly,” City Manager Diane Barnes said Monday.

City planners will hold a public hearing on the project’s site plan beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, July 12, at Unobskey College on Main Street.

The Calais LNG project, estimated to cost $800 million to $1 billion, is proposed for the Red Beach section of Calais, south of the city on a 330-acre site that features 2,800 feet of shoreline along the deep-water banks of the St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay.

Calais LNG is in the permit process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and, in late January 2010, filed its permits with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The BEP has set a series of public hearings for July to allow testimony from Calais LNG, the public and intervenors, a legal term for parties with interests in the proceedings.

Some of the intervenors expected to provide testimony at the first hearing — scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, July 19, at Calais High School — include the city of Calais, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Save Passamaquoddy Bay, Conservation Law Foundation, Sierra Club, Downeast LNG, the National Park Service and the Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission.

If necessary, that hearing will be continued throughout the week until Friday, July 21. The entire hearing is open to the public.

BEP has set another session for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20, at Calais High School to accept testimony from the general public. A second hearing for the general public will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22, at a site yet to be selected.

Comments also may be submitted in writing and must be received by July 23, at which time the record will be closed. For more information about these hearings, contact Becky Blais of the BEP at 446-2564.

In May, the City Council amended the town’s comprehensive plan and land use regulations and created a marine industry zone that would allow siting LNG facilities. Barnes said the zone was not specific to the Calais LNG project, but would allow such projects to move ahead.

City Council, which has openly supported the Calais LNG project, approved the changes. City officials feel that not only would Calais LNG bring economic revival to the city, but that could create spin-off businesses that would provide jobs and revenue.

Opponents of the project have a different view. Robert Godfrey of Eastport, a spokesman for the anti-LNG group Save Passamaquoddy Bay, said his group would be watching the process closely.

“It is a long and tedious one, but one that is necessary,” he said Monday. “Our concern is that everything is done properly.”

Save Passamaquoddy Bay has been against siting any LNG facility on that body of water, and Godfrey said an example of the difficulty of following such a proposal recently became clear to him.

“I filed a request with FERC 11 months ago to be updated,” he said. “I just got the information last month. This is one of the reasons we are watching carefully.”

Meanwhile, representatives from Calais LNG have begun sharing data with the mapping team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is conducting a federal mapping project of the Bay of Fundy and Cobscook Bay.

As part of the permitting process for the approval of an LNG terminal, Calais LNG has been conducting its own research of waterway navigation over the last several months.

“We have obtained a lot of useful data, and we thought it made perfect sense to share that information to assist NOAA with their own mapping effort,” said Ian Emery, development manager of the Calais LNG project. “To us, it made no sense for the federal government to spend time and money since we already had a lot of the information.”

NOAA Commander Lawrence Krepps said the assistance provided by Calais LNG will save significant time and money.

“Every once in a while we get lucky and are able to benefit from resources provided by the private sector,” Krepps said. “The assistance of Calais LNG is very much appreciated and saves us valuable resources.”

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