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.

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