Friday, January 19, 2007

Weaver's Cove Secret LNG Meetings Avoid the Main Issues

Today's story in the East Bay section of the Providence Journal (below) demonstrates that Weaver's Cove LNG is still alive and kicking, despite numerous recent setbacks for the proposed facility in Fall River. It is ridiculous and outrageous that Weaver's Cove is meeting with local and municipal officials to discuss security issues without the host community's participation. This is another blatant attempt by Hess LNG to buy community support by promising to finance the onerous security entourage this proposal would require to protect LNG tankers throughout Narragansett Bay.

More to the point, whatever happened with last year's "Mini-tanker" proposal Weaver's Cove was pushing? Is it possible that whole modification was just a bluff to keep the project's dubious viability alive after Congress preserved the old Brightman Street Bridge by law? Maybe so, but the Coast Guard and other security experts still want to see more information on how these mini-tankers would navigate that narrow gauntlet between the old and new bridges of the Taunton River. Until detailed, professional pilot assessments and security analyses are submitted, the permit process for Weaver's Cove is stalled.

The Army Corps will not process the dredging application without a favorable navigation safety recommendation from the Coast Guard, and none of the other federal, state, or local permits really matter if Weaver's Cove cannot dredge. My advice to Hess? Let's talk about offshore LNG and dump Fall River. JT

Local officials attend closed-door LNG meeting

01:00 AM EST on Friday, January 19, 2007

By Michael P. McKinney Journal Staff Writer

FALL RIVER — With a security guard watching the stairs, the company proposing a liquefied-natural-gas terminal barred reporters and the public from an invitation-only meeting yesterday that began getting safety and security input from several Massachusetts police and fire officials for the Weaver’s Cove Energy project’s eventual emergency management plan.

For many residents in Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island’s East Bay, a major question at hearings has been how, in more detail, safety and security would be handled at a Fall River site and with LNG-carrying tankers traversing water in two states. But at the private Quequechan Club, the 2 p.m. meeting — up the stairs in the second-floor Mount Hope Room — was off-limits to three reporters as well as a man who opposes the location of the project about a half-mile from his home.

A similar closed meeting for invited Rhode Island police, fire and other first-response officials is expected to be held at the club today.

But James A. Grasso, a company spokesman who took questions at length inside the club’s lobby where the reporters gathered, said there was important reason for several such expected meetings being tailored to first responders whose specialties are emergency preparation.
“It’s a security-preparedness meeting,” Grasso said, “and if we open it to the public, some of the things they are going to be talking about would not be very secure for very long.”
He said: “We are in the process of formulating a plan and we believe we need local officials, state officials and federal officials” from whom to solicit input. And he added that just like the city’s hospitals, as well as other city facilities that already involve chemicals such as chlorine or propane, the LNG facility must come up with the emergency preparation and response plan as part of the permitting process.

Grasso said he thought that at some point, some of what is part of these meetings could be disseminated, but that it was premature at this point to say. He reiterated that the LNG industry has a strong safety record for 40 years.

But officials of the very city that would host the facility boycotted yesterday’s meeting, after Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., the police chief and fire chief consulted on the matter. One city volunteer emergency-management official showed up, but later left, Lambert said, after learning that Fall River was not taking part. Lambert said invitations from the company to individual departments’ officials, such as the police chief, had not included notification to the mayor’s office.

“We have long agreed that there was no way to put together a viable security plan for that facility, and we communicated that many times to Weaver’s Cove,” said Lambert, who has staunchly opposed the project and made clear that city officials did not want to be, or appear, “co-opted” by the company.

And Lambert asserted the meeting was little more than a “charade” put on for shareholders of the company proposing the project. He argued that with two other LNG sites getting approvals during former Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration, the Fall River proposal “is dying a slow death.”

Grasso denied the meeting was put on for shareholders, saying it had been long planned and involved acquiring data in recent years to present to attendees. He also said, “Why would [city emergency officials] boycott the meeting? It’s in their best interest to attend.”
And he asserted that not having Fall River’s emergency officials’ involvement does not stop the company from moving forward to get its emergency-management plan approved.
Topics discussed yesterday were not clear, but some who left at the conclusion would say only that it was a general introductory session.

A precise count of attendees was difficult. Grasso estimated 25 to 30. After reporters had asked several arriving attendees for names and departments, Marcia MacClary, a spokeswoman for Weaver’s Cove Energy, told the security guard to tell people walking in that they did not have to give names or whom they represented.

Among those who attended were Lt. Robert Perry, representing the office of Bristol County District Sheriff Thomas Hodgson; Barry Wante, a homeland security officials with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency; as well as uniformed representatives of the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

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