Tuesday, May 30, 2006

LNG Simulation Run Story

On Friday, we had a great trip out on the Bay with Attorney General Patrick Lynch and a range of experts on marine safety and security to perform an independent analysis of the risks of shipping LNG to Weaver's Cove in Fall River. The folowing article, by reporter Sean Flynn, appeared in Saturday's Newport Daily News. I think the article sums it up well. JT

Boat trip aims to sink LNG proposal

By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff

Save The Bay took a group of maritime officials, security experts and elected leaders on a boat ride Friday along a 26-mile route a supertanker carrying up to 33 million gallons of liquefied natural gas would take from Newport Harbor to Fall River, Mass., where Weaver's Cove Energy LLC plans to build a large LNG terminal.Robin Wallace, director of the Rhode Island State Yachting Committee, was aboard Save The Bay's 45-foot trawler, the M/V Aletta Morris, with Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch.

The proposal has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it still needs a certificate of waterway suitability from the Coast Guard.Wallace and the other passengers aboard the trawler want to persuade the Coast Guard not to grant that certificate.Wallace, a member of the New York Yacht Club and chairman of its race committee, said his club is teaming up with Ida Lewis Yacht Club to financially support a new Save The Bay campaign to raise awareness about the risks of the LNG proposal.John Torgan, Save The Bay's Narragansett Bay Keeper, said the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers and the Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition have made a similar pledge. He said Save The Bay hopes to raise about $100,000 for the campaign.

Those groups may have different reasons for joining the campaign, but they are all concerned about the "disruptive impact the LNG traffic and the necessary security measures would have on the bay.""It came about because of our desire to have a unified approach on behalf of recreational sailors," Wallace said, speaking for the yacht clubs.

Under federal regulations, the Coast Guard must maintain a security "exclusion zone" around the supertankers that extends two miles off the bow, one mile off the stern and 1,500 feet on either side of the vessel. That zone would cover the width of the waterway between Fort Adams in Newport and the eastern shore of Jamestown.

"Every time a supertanker passes, our most historic harbor is shut down," said Lynch as he held a map of Newport Harbor on the breezy deck of the M/V Aletta Morris.That could have a serious impact on Newport as a worldwide recognized sailing center, Wallace said."Once Newport gets a track record of events being interfered with by LNG tankers, it will become less attractive for recreational sailors to come here," he said. That could have a long-term effect on the area's economy, he said.Downgrade of Newport's appeal?The city lost the America's Cup Races in 1983, but Sail Newport was founded that year. The Newport Yacht Club moved to the city in 1988. These organizations and others have continued to attract sailors here, Wallace said."They sail here, keep their boats here and fit out their boats here," he said. "They buy sails, electronic equipment and other necessities. They support our restaurants and hotels."

According to Wallace, Bruno Peyron of France who was here recently to prepare for his cross-Atlantic trip, said, "The Newport area is the best in the world to prepare for a major event because there are so many resources here."The Newport to Bermuda race that begins June 16 will attract more than 250 boats."Newport's reputation is so good that organizations want to come here without us paying them," Wallace said.

That is not always the case. He said that more and more professional organizers want communities to pay for the privilege of hosting an event and reaping the economic benefits of such an event. He said a community in Portugal paid more than $500,000 (500,000 euros) to host the Farr 40 World Championship in September 2007.In the face of such competition, Wallace said Newport must become more attractive, and not become part of an LNG supertanker route that would diminish its appeal."

No one disputes the need for more LNG terminals, but they can be sited in places without having a destructive effect," he said.Assistant Attorney General Paul J. Roberti, chief of the office's regulatory unit, was also on the boat ride. He said there are now two proposals to site a terminal about 17 miles off the coast of Gloucester, Mass. He said a number of sites have been explored off the coast of Maine, all in sparsely populated areas. One Maine community, he said, voted to welcome development of an LNG terminal."There are alternatives out there," Roberti said. "But if Weaver's Cove happens, these reasonable alternatives may not be pursued." That could happen, he said, because it is less of an investment to develop an LNG terminal on land than offshore.

The experts

The three maritime experts on board Friday will write a report for the attorney general's office, which will submit it to the Coast Guard. One of the experts is Ron Gorsline, a former Navy SEAL who trained law enforcement personnel to provide security at the Cove Point LNG terminal in Maryland. He also trains Coast Guard personnel on LNG security issues."The biggest trouble spot is from the Braga Bridge (in Fall River) to Weaver's Cove," he said Friday as he surveyed Mount Hope Bay. The old Brightman Street Bridge will not be demolished under federal legislation successfully sponsored by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.If the bridge remains, there will be only 8 feet of clearance on smaller tankers as they pass between the bridge piles."It's a densely populated area and a restricted area for navigation," Gorsline said. "There is no maneuverability here. I don't see this as being a good option."

Jay Bolton, a U.S. master mariner with 39 years of international seafaring experience, said, "I'll do a risk-benefit analysis. There are some significant risks involved in the narrow channels and shallow water."Torgan said an estimated 3 million cubic yards must be dredged in Mount Hope Bay near Weaver's Cove to form a turning basin for the supertankers.The third member of the team is Merle Smith, a Vietnam veteran and former Coast Guard commander, who has served as legal counsel for the Electric Boat Division of the General Dynamics Corp. He will focus on the security necessary for the planned 70 to 120 tankers a year traveling up and down Narragansett Bay.

State Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr., D-Bristol, and Newport City Councilman Stephen R. Coyne were among the elected officials on the boat.Gallison pointed out the security zone around the tankers would extend onto land at points along the route, including part of the campus of Rogers Williams University."Will they have to vacate buildings every time a tanker passes?" he asked."The Coast Guard has already said they won't be able to protect the tankers from a well-planned and coordinated attack," he said.These questions and concerns will now all be directed at the Coast Guard."On this issue, Rhode Island is going to be entirely dependent on the Coast Guard," Roberti said.

© Copyright 2004 - 2001. The Newport Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Menhaden in the Bay

For the past 4 weeks, the staff of Save The Bay has been treated to the sight of massive schools of adult menhaden in the Providence River in front of the Bay Center. Called "The most important fish in the sea" Atlantic menhaden are a key fish species in Narragansett Bay as they provide forage for sportfish and also remove lots of plankton through filter-feeding.

Unlike river herring, menhaden spend their entire lives in salt water. Known to spawn above the continental shelf hundreds of miles offshore, they also lay eggs in estuaries. Eggs, larvae, and juveniles (called 'peanut bunker') are common in the Bay. Historically, large adult menhaden (>12") were also common in the Bay, but have declined since the mid-1970's and had not been regularly observed in big schools until 2005, when a large school of adults appeared again in the Providence River.

Stock assessments from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and estimates from the RIDEM suggest that the species is not overfished, and that a viable, sustainable coastal stock remains. Unlike the Chesapeake states and Gulf states, Rhode Island does not practice "reduction" harvesting and only allows commercial seining of the species for bait purposes. Reduction refers to the process of processing the fish to remove their oil and turn the protein into fish meal for fertilizer or animal feed, and has been implicated as a major factor in stock declines in menhaden and other dependent species in those areas where it is practiced.

The commercial seining of menhaden in Narragansett Bay for bait is controversial. Many recreational fishermen object to the presence of the large seine boats all the way up into the city of Providence, scattering if not decimating the schools and ruining the fishing. Many recreational fishers also object to the sight of bycatch such as striped bass and bluefish in the seine nets. Some commercial fishermen, some lobstermen, and the management agencies claim that there is no Bay-dependent stock, that they are not being overfished, and that the seiners support recreational fishing through bait shops.

Whether these seine boats are significantly depleting the Bay's populations is a matter of debate, but it seems reasonable that we should draw a line somewhere to limit the scope of the commercial netting even if just to protect the recreational fishery. My opinion is that the seiners are overfishing the Bay's stocks already. Drawing a line from the Conimicut light to the Nayatt light and prohibiting commercial seining north of that line would be a great start toward conservation and effective management.

It is probably too late to pass legislation in this year's General Assembly establishing real conservation zones, but it's something we should strongly consider for next year. It's wonderful to have these big "pogies" back in the River and we'd like to see them year after year. -JT

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Let's lose the Cesspools!

It's unbelievable that Rhode Island still allows cesspools in coastal areas. A cesspool is basically a pit in the ground into which raw sewage is dumped. That sewage, along with all its nasty bacteria and other pollutants, then flows right into the Bay. For the past 5 years, Save The Bay has fought unsuccessfully to change the law and phase-out cesspools. Resistance from builders, realtors, and various other petty politics has prevented this no-brainer from passing. This year, a weakened version of the original bill is pending in the general assembly and even that looks like it might not pass. It's an outrage. -JT

Below is text from an open letter from STB to legislators and policy makers:

It is time to take the first steps to rid Rhode Island of its cesspools. The cesspool phase-out legislation before the House and Senate (H7699 and S2505) this year does just that by targeting the cesspools that pose the greatest threat to human health, public drinking water supplies, public beaches and Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay urges you to support this legislation.

The legislation will require inspection and removal of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 of Rhode Island’s estimated 50,000 cesspools by the year 2012. The affected cesspools are only those within 200 feet of:
· a public well,
· a water body with a public beach,
· the intake of a surface drinking water supply, or
· the shoreline (CRMC’s jurisdiction).

Owners of properties with cesspools are required to either replace the cesspool with a proper individual sewage disposal system (ISDS) or tie into sewer lines if available or planned. In addition, the bill provides prospective purchasers of property statewide ten days to obtain an inspection of the on-site sewage system to determine if a cesspool exists and its condition. This provision should create an incentive for the removal of cesspools at the point to sale throughout the state, although it does not require it.

Finally, the bill does not apply in a community which has its own municipal on-site wastewater management plan that meets the purposes of the legislation and contains provisions for waivers in cases of undue hardship.

Cesspool phase-out legislation has come before the RI Legislature for each of the last four years – each year since 2001 when the ISDS Task Force recommended removal of all cesspools in RI. Four years is far too long to wait to address a public health threat and although this bill is limited in its scope is represents a critically important beginning. Failing cesspools pose a direct threat to keeping Rhode Island’s waters drinkable, swimmable and fishable. Save The Bay asks you to defend these most important of public resources.