Friday, July 21, 2006

Weaver's Cove LNG Offers Lame Mitigation Plan

The Weaver's Cove LNG proposal in Fall River is still alive and kicking. Today is the deadline to submit comments to the State Of Massachusetts M.E.P.A office on the latest environmental impact report. I usually don't post our more technical comments on this blog, but I want readers to get a sense of how outrageous the Weaver's Cove proposal is. I think these comments reflect our position on the project clearly. -JT

July 20, 2006

Secretary Stephen R. Pritchard
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Unit, Analyst Rick Bourre
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement (SFEIR)

Dear Secretary Pritchard,

Save The Bay has reviewed the June 15, 2006 SFEIR for the Weaver’s Cove LNG project. We find that the project, as proposed, would result in permanent and irreversible impacts to the Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay. The SFEIR fails to meet the fundamental tests of MEPA to avoid and minimize environmental impacts to the maximum extent practicable as required by law[1]. Recognizing the narrow scope of MEPA’s jurisdiction, we urge that MEPA certification be denied.

1) Proposed Mitigation is Improper and Inadequate

a) The Applicant’s FEIR has inappropriately proposed off-site mitigation to address the severe impacts that will be caused by the new deepening dredging and the creation of a massive turning basin in the Taunton River. The proposed set of mitigation measures in the FEIR may not be exchanged for avoidable damage. Comparisons to other mitigation and restoration projects are not valid as none of the referenced approaches were ever intended to offset avoidable damage to the ecosystem, and none were approved for these purposes.

b) The applicant grossly misrepresented and misapplied Save The Bay’s eelgrass restoration research and publications. Save The Bay’s eelgrass research and restoration efforts were never intended to mitigate any damaging projects, and it is scientifically indefensible for the applicant to suggest that paying for eelgrass restoration offsite will have any benefit to winter flounder or other marine habitat destroyed by the project.

c) Restocking of winter flounder to offset these damages would be similarly inappropriate, especially given the potential of the project to destroy existing winter flounder spawning habitat. Adding flounder to degraded, impacted habitats is not a reasonable mitigation measure to offset permanent habitat destruction and is in no way equivalent to natural conditions.

d) The on-site creation of shallow subtidal habitat via salt marsh restoration to offset damages will not compensate for losses caused directly by the project. It is not reasonable to assume that created marsh in the vicinity of a deep dredged channel and turning basin will offer equivalent or comparable ecological services as the natural habitats being permanently destroyed by the project.

e) For the same reasons as listed above, anadromous fish restoration is not viable as mitigation in this case. River herring populations in this region are so depressed that the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have all banned the possession of herring and stopped all fishing. Any project that has significant potential to further degrade or impact anadromous fish or their habitat must be denied.

2) The Proposed Dredging Will Cause Permanent and Irreversible Impacts

a) The characterization of the dredging as restoring the river to its fully-authorized depth is misleading. Outside of this project, no dredging is presently planned for the project area, and the turning basin and entrance channel represent new deepening dredging that will not benefit any parties other than the applicant, but will cause significant damage to the environment.

b) The dredged channel and deep areas in the Lower Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay presently experience hypoxia and stratification during summer months.[2] Shallower areas of the Bay are better mixed by winds and tides and generally maintain dissolved oxygen levels capable of supporting most marine life. The proposed creation of the turning basin will extend the deep dredged area nearly from bank-to-bank of the Taunton River, and therefore will create a hypoxic zone across the river that Save The Bay believes will act as a barrier to migration for fish and other marine life. The applicant has failed to address the hydrodynamic and physical water quality impacts of the project, which we believe will be severe.

c) The application of dredging windows or temporal restrictions on dredging will not mitigate the permanent impacts of the deepening. While dredging windows are a valuable management tool to minimize the short-term impacts of dredging on sensitive marine life, windows will not mitigate the permanent impacts of the created hypoxic zone. Also, the proposed observance of narrow dredged windows would require the project to be conducted over multiple years, causing repeated impacts to the river and Bay.

3) Operational Environmental Impacts Not Addressed

a) In addition to dredging impacts, ship operations will continuously disturb benthic habitat in the vicinity of the project by resuspending sediment.

b) Ballast water operations have the potential to introduce non-indigenous species at high volumes. Taking on ballast also has the potential to entrain fish eggs and larvae.

c) Air pollution impacts related to the additional tanker and truck traffic has not been addressed.

In summary, MEPA certification should be denied outright, and not conditioned on any dubious promises of mitigation. To do otherwise would run counter to the public interest.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments. If you have any questions, you may contact me directly at (401) 272-3540 x116.


John Torgan
Narragansett BayKeeper

[1] 301 CMR 11.07 (6)(j)
[2] This link to Brown University’s ‘Insomniacs’ website shows multiple references to studies of hypoxia in Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay. As a participant in water quality research in this area, Save The Bay has directly observed low dissolved oxygen conditions in the dredged channel of Mount Hope Bay and the Lower Taunton River in summer.