Friday, January 11, 2008

Can the Coast Guard Keep Us Safe if Broadwater is Built? The Federal Government Says No

The federal government says that, as things stand now, the Coast Guard is having trouble keeping the coast secure, and that it definitely lacks the resources to deal with the increased need for security that new liquefied natural gas terminals and their tankers will create.

Is that bad news for Broadwater? Over the short term, it should be. How can the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve Broadwater's plan for an LNG terminal in Long Island Sound if they can't guarantee it will be safe? That's what three Congressmen from the Sound area contend.

The question of course is this: if one branch of the federal government -- namely FERC -- decides that Broadwater is needed and would be a benefit to the region, isn't it the responsibility of the other branches to help figure out how to make the project work, in this case by providing more funds for the Coast Guard? Or would that amount to a public subsidy of private industry? We already subsidize lots of private businesses by providing security (also known as police). So why shouldn't we do the same for Broadwater?

One reason perhaps is that the public subsidies are starting to add up. There's the use of the publicly-owned waters of Long Island Sound for the terminal itself. There's the closure of parts of the Sound as tankers come in and out. There's the loss of fish, a public resource, killed by the Broadwater cooling system. There's the destruction of scenic views cherished by the public. I'm sure readers can add others as well. And at some point the cost-benefit ratio begins to tilt more towards the cost than then benefit.

If you're a staunch opponent of Broadwater to begin with, the government report is not another point to debate. It's another reason to say no. That seems to be what Congressman Courtney, Bishop and DeLauro are saying, here, in the New London Day.

Denise Civiletti, on eastern Long Island, has a news story about the U.S. Government Accountability Office report, here. And a sumary of the report itself is here.

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Blogger Sam said...

It's a valid concern about the US Coast Guard being stretched too thin. Several reports have concluded that while better than in 9-11, our ports are not secure by any stretch of the imagination. When combined with the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard mission greatly expanded but still has to protect safety (emergency response), do ship inspections, find smugglers, and so forth. Adding escorts for LNG ships will only stretch resources even thinner and could take away from core mission objectives.

Add to that, the Coast Guard is in the middle of a major investigation that billions were wasted on billion dollar ships ... that could break in half if they ever went out to sea. Meanwhile, the medium sized cutter fleet is aging and many boats are no longer sea-worthy.

Add to that, many of the Coast Guards funds have been shipped over to Iraq, and competition for recruits has been difficult because both the Army and US Border Patrol are trying to significantly add to their ranks. It's a recipe for disaster.

Here's a brief description of what happens when a LNG ship enters the Freeport Channel in Texas:

The ship channel is closed and hour before and after the ship arrives or departs. All vessels including recreational ones must maintain 1,500 foot clearance. Even the jetties, a popular fishing spot, are cleared of all people. The escort consists of two tugboats, one but most likely two Coast Guard vessels (a cutter and a small RIB patrol boat), and one or more company security boats. A Coast Guard helicopter flyover is most likely needed. Another tow vessel is required in the event that a vessel breaks down and must be cleared from the security zone.


12:56 PM  

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