Thursday, March 24, 2005

Citizens Committee Skeptical of Broadwater

A citizens group that is taking a preliminary look at the Broadwater LNG proposal has drafted a report that raises a skeptical eyebrow at the appropriateness of putting a fuel terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound. The report also makes it clear that so little is known about Broadwater’s proposal that it is very difficult to make an intelligent assessment of the plan.

The group is actually an ad hoc committee of the Long Island Sound Study’s Citizens Advisory Committee. Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment is the chair of the ad hoc committee, and Maureen Dolan, CCE’s program coordinator, is a member, as is Kyle Rabin, of Friends of the Bay. All three are members of the Anti-Broadwater Coalition. In the interests of my own full disclosure, two ad hoc committee members, Cesare Manfredi and Dan Natchez, were sources of mine (generally friendly and cooperative, but not always) when I was a reporter, and more recently Manfredi and I served together on the board of a non-profit environmental group.

John Atkin, co-chair of the CAC, sent me a copy yesterday (the list of CAC members who declined to send me a copy is long, which surprised me, considering that the CAC has always operated openly and the document is clearly in the public domain). Atkin said the CAC would discuss it at a meeting today but would take no action on it.

The ad hoc committee had its genesis in December, after Broadwater made a presentation at a CAC meeting.

…the committee wrote a letter to Broadwater requesting answers to our specific questions and concerns. Broadwater replied to the committee that they would like to again meet with the committee members. The committee sent a follow up letter asking if the suggested meeting would address the committee’s specific concerns and provide answers to our questions….

The committee intends this interim report to act as a first step guidance document. We can revise sections upon the request of the CAC as more information becomes available either from Broadwater or other sources….

The onus is on Broadwater to provide adequate answers to our questions and, more importantly, to prove that their proposed facility is safe and environmentally sound. Broadwater needs be responsive to all levels of government and the public.

That said, the ad hoc committee report raises dozens of questions. I’ll start with a long excerpt that addresses the issue I continue to think is the most important: whether an industrial facility is a proper use for the middle of the Sound (I’m leaving out the citations from the report, but if anyone wants them let me know).

Industrialization is evident on both sides of Long Island Sound. Each of those areas began with the siting of one industrial project. There are two key questions we need to ask ourselves - Do we want to turn the middle of Long Island Sound into one of those industrial centers? Will this project pave the way for other industrial uses?

Long Island Sound is held for the citizens of New York and Connecticut under the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD). The PTD is a law that has been handed down from justice system to justice system since Justinian times. In the landmark United States Supreme Court case Illinois Central R.R. v. Illinois (1892) the court stated “…the state can no more abdicate its trust over property in which the whole people are interested…so as to leave them entirely under the use and control of private parties…than it can abdicate it[s] role in the administration of government and the preservation of peace.” Cases since have clarified that the “trust” is a real trust in the legal sense of the word, with the trustees (the State Legislature and its delegates) being responsible for and having a duty to protect the trust. “There is a clear purpose for the trust: to preserve and continuously assure the public’s ability to fully use and enjoy public trust lands, waters and resources for certain public uses.”

Common uses for the public trust grow as times change; generally it has included fishing, navigation, commerce, shellfishing, swimming, boating, and general recreation purposes. However, it is important to note that all of these uses “must take into account the overarching principle of the public trust doctrine that trust lands belong to the public and are to be used to promote public rather than exclusively private purposes.” “Because these goods are to be enjoyed by all, the government must assume a trust-like duty not to waste or expend them for the benefit of just a few.”

Safety considerations will require a “no access/exclusion zone” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the life of this platform. The benefit of use for that portion of Long Island Sound will be stripped from the public and given over to benefit TransCanada and Shell. There are some existing places along Long Island Sound and river shores that have safety and security zones maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Some have safety/security zone in place around the facility on land while other safety/security zones exist only while vessels are in port; none of these locations are in the middle of Long Island Sound.

The report also raises questions about the potential for contaminated stormwater from the terminal, and for cooling water and ballast water to damage fish and shellfish. It outlines a number of problems that could be caused by the installation of the underwater pipeline that would distribute natural gas from the terminal.

The ad hoc committee is concerned about the safety of the terminal for other vessels:

It is reasonable to anticipate some navigational challenges since the Broadwater facility would be moored in the middle of the Sound. This facility will not be stationary and will move in a huge arc controlled by the tide and wind. There is concern on how this proposed facility will be identified with appropriate lighting and audible signals. In addition, it is unclear what strategies will be available for providing safe passage during the night or other periods of low visibility, such as storms or dense fog. This is of particular concern to smaller recreational boats that do not have radar.

The report contains sections on safety and terrorism, the demand for natural gas, and the need for a sustainable energy policy for the region.

Although there is no particular conclusion, the report ends with this caution:

In the United States, there are currently over 40 LNG terminals in existence, proposed or classified as potential projects. The nation does not need all of them and the companies know that and, as a result, companies are in a race against each other. It is possible that some proposals may be less sound than others, but are being fast-tracked through the regulatory process. But the question remains whether the regulatory process is set up in such a way to ensure that only the most sensible projects, with the least environmental impacts, get permitted.

The ad hoc committee’s report isn’t online yet, but when it is, I’ll link to it.


Anonymous Mark Parker said...

Thank you Tom for today's article. The snow storm put a change to my plans to attend the CAC meeting, as I live in northern CT (but still within the Long Island Sound watershed) where the snow was 7 inches deep. As the DEP staff assigned to Long Island Sound Study (LISS) outreach in CT and a liason to the CAC I normally receive a packet of documents before each CAC meeting. For whatever reason however, I did not receive a copy of the adhoc committee's report. Therefore I suspect that other staff and CAC members also may not have received a copy. So don't feel bad that other CAC members declined to send you a copy. Besides, you wouldn't have wanted to recieve forty copies anyway. Thank you again for the posting. It helped this cabin fever bound LIS fan feel connected to his friends as they meet to discuss this important issue.

12:52 PM  

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