BEP agrees to postpone Calais LNG hearings

Posted July 15, 2010, at 1:37 a.m.

CALAIS, Maine — The Maine Bureau of Environmental Protection reluctantly agreed Wednesday to postpone a series of public hearings that had been scheduled next week on a proposed $1 billion liquefied natural gas project.

The series of public hearings was to begin Monday, July 19, and continue through the week.

David Van Slyke, an attorney representing Calais LNG, said the company had not completed a number of tests, surveys and data collection for its proposed development that were pertinent to the hearings and asked BEP Tuesday for the postponement.

Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation, one of several groups opposing the project, said he found it “unbelievable” that Calais LNG had “clamored” for an expedited schedule and then was not able to meet its own obligations.

“We find it hard to believe that they discovered just three days before the hearings were to begin that they could not provide the requested information. [Calais LNG] pushed with all the political pressure they could muster,” Mahoney said Wednesday afternoon. “This put citizens’ groups and nonprofits at a disadvantage in obtaining witnesses and pre-filed testimony.”

Mahoney said Wednesday that it was “time for Calais LNG to put up or shut up, and they showed they were not ready.”

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.

In a letter dated Wednesday and sent electronically to Van Slyke, BEP Chairman Susan Lessard wrote, “I am surprised that this problem has only now been brought to my attention.”

Lessard said the BEP board has worked for four months under an “ambitious time frame requested by Calais LNG.”

She called the postponement request disappointing and said the lateness of the request comes at a considerable cost in time and resources to the board and other parties.

However, she wrote to Van Slyke, “It is imperative that the board’s ability to review the application under all applicable laws not be compromised.”

Lessard agreed to postpone the hearings and stated the postponement would trigger an extension of time for the BEP board to review the Calais LNG project equal to the time of the extension.

She also informed Calais LNG that a conference will be held soon between the attorneys for BEP, Calais LNG and intervenors to discuss a new hearing schedule.

After a three-hour public hearing by the Calais Planning Board on Monday, Calais LNG’s site plan for the facility was given unanimous approval. A Calais LNG official said shortly afterward that the next step in the process would be the BEP public hearings scheduled for the next week.

The next day, however, the postponement of those hearings was sought.

Van Slyke said Tuesday that the information BEP is requesting is complex and includes several reports that have not been completed.

These include a second level soils report on the gas pipeline route; data sheets and analysis on areas similar to vernal pools; and policies for dealing with the Maine Department of Marine Patrol and various fisheries, among others.

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