ROBBINSTON, Maine — Opponents of a long-proposed liquefied natural gas, or LNG, import terminal in the Washington County community of Robbinston have filed three new objections to the $600 million terminal that would be sited on Mill Cove near the St. Croix River’s confluence with Passamaquoddy Bay.
The Eastport-based Save Passamaquoddy Bay organization has submitted two filings since Sept. 17 and a third on July 24, 2012, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the agency through which Downeast LNG Inc. and Downeast Pipeline LLC are seeking a federal permit that would be required to construct two LNG storage tanks, a regasification plant and a 4,000-foot jetty and deep-water pier for docking LNG carrier ships. Those facilities would be built on an 80-acre shoreline site for which Downeast LNG has a purchase option that extends through June 2013.
First proposed in 2005, the project also would include a 30-mile pipeline to Baileyville to link the facility to the existing Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, which runs through Maine between Nova Scotia with southern New England.
The project won approval in a special election held in Robbinston in January 2006, with 227 voters approving the project and 83 opposed. At that time, a University of Maine study showed the LNG terminal would create 90 operational jobs, 350 construction jobs and 230 “indirect” jobs in the region.
The Downeast LNG project has been, and remains, an on-again, off-again proposal. After a lengthy and contentious public hearing process, Downeast LNG withdrew its application for state permitting approval in 2007 and has never reapplied. There are no LNG applications currently pending with Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection.
The two most recent filings with FERC by the Save Passamaquoddy Bay opponents to the project claim that two environmental studies — one undertaken in 1976 by University of Maine researchers and another in 2004 by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers — suggest that any offshore construction associated with the project would disturb long-settled heavy metals, including mercury, that entered the St. Croix River as effluent from an upstream paper mill in Baileyville and remain in the muddy riverbed.
“Constructing a 4,000-foot jetty and pier would require disturbing 4,000 feet of muck, which would reintroduce mercury into the water,” Robert Godfrey of Eastport, a researcher and spokesman for Save Passamaquoddy Bay, said Saturday. “That raises all sorts of issues about how that would impact plankton, fish and marine mammals, not to mention the subsistence fishers downstream. There are Passamaquoddies who rely on fishing for food, and there’s an executive order that dates back to the Clinton presidency, an ‘Environmental Justice’ memo of understanding among federal agencies that says they are not to allow projects that allow economic or physical harm to minorities or economically disadvantaged populations.”
Godfrey said Saturday that he finds it “disturbing” that the findings of the 2004 mercury study, which involved EPA researchers, weren’t included in a the most recent statement of environmental effects submitted by Downeast LNG with the assistance of the EPA.
“Did EPA or Downeast LNG know about [the 2004 study] and not produce it, or was it pure incompetence?” Godfrey asked when interviewed by phone on Saturday.
Also at issue, he said, is Downeast LNG’s proposed design for containing both super-chilled vapor from a terminal leak or thermal radiation, should there be an explosion or fire. The Save Passamaquoddy Bay group’s July 24, 2012, filing with FERC questions the adequacy of a Downeast LNG’s vapor containment strategy.
“Attempting to prevent LNG vapor from leaving the terminal, Downeast LNG has proposed approximately 1.76 miles of 20-foot-tall vapor fences within the property,” that July filing reads in part. “The applicantʼs vapor dispersion modeling report indicates in at least one 10-minute scenario that LNG vapor would pass over the long internal vapor fence, drop to the ground, and then accumulate at the fence line vapor fence alongside [Route 1]. The conﬁguration of the proposed vapor fencing raises serious safety questions.”
Godfrey noted Saturday that the vapor containment fencing as proposed would be visible from an existing Route 1 scenic turnout.
“It would look like a prison,” Godfrey said.
Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG, said his company does not intend to respond to the latest filings by Save Passamaquoddy Bay.
“Downeast LNG believes that the Biological Assessment prepared by FERC with the input of multiple federal and state agencies addresses any potential impacts as a result of the proposed project, including those issues raised in the submission by SPB and that said impacts would be minimal,” Girdis said in a prepared statement released Sunday.