Firm moves ahead with LNG plan

Coast Guard has rejected proposal

Email|Print| Text size + By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / November 20, 2007

The company hoping to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River is forging ahead even after the Coast Guard rejected the proposal last month.

Opponents called the Coast Guard's decision a near death blow for the Weaver's Cove Energy terminal, but the president of Hess LNG, Gordon Shearer, said yesterday the company will appeal the ruling as early as tomorrow.

At the same time, Shearer said the company will submit a new proposal designed to address the concerns raised by the Coast Guard, a move that would automatically trigger a new review.

"It's fair to say that the project is by no means dead," Shearer said yesterday.

A revised proposal will be submitted to the Coast Guard in the next few months, he said. The proposal can be filed even if the Coast Guard has not yet ruled on the appeal.

The Coast Guard said that if the company submits a new proposal, it is prepared to completely reanalyze it.

"Weaver's Cove could present an entirely new proposal, which would require the Coast Guard to conduct an entirely new analysis," Coast Guard Senior Chief Richard Uronis said.

Opponents have fought against the proposed LNG terminal, saying that a terrorist attack or accident would be devastating to residents in the densely populated area.

On Oct. 24, the Coast Guard rejected plans for the terminal, ruling that tankers would not be able to safely negotiate passage between two bridges on the river leading to the site.

Opponents celebrated the decision, which they hoped had spelled the end for the project. Edward Lambert, then mayor of Fall River, said the decision delivered a "near death blow, if not a fatal blow" to the project.

Shearer said the decision was more of a setback than a death blow. He faulted local Coast Guard officials, saying they failed to base their decision on marine simulations and the judgment of pilots, both of which Shearer said would have worked in the project's favor.

If local Coast Guard officials uphold their earlier decision, Shearer plans to appeal up through the chain of command.

"As you go up the appeals process, it ceases to become a local Coast Guard issue and less susceptible to local pressure," he said.

At the same time, the company will submit an entirely revised proposal. Shearer said that proposal would try to address some of the concerns raised by the Coast Guard, including the size of the ships and their ability to navigate between the two bridges.

The Coast Guard based its decision to reject Weaver's Cove initial proposal in part because it determined the tankers would not have sufficient space to safely navigate to the LNG site between two bridges that are about 1,100 feet apart on the Taunton River.

The bridges became obstacles to the project after maneuvering by opponents. The old Brightman Street Bridge was slated for demolition, but was preserved as a pedestrian walkway when opponents realized they could use it to stop the project.

The old bridge has a narrow, 98-foot-wide opening that is not aligned with the opening on the new Brightman Street Bridge, which is just 1,100 feet away.

That leaves too little room for the tankers to maneuver between them.

Shearer said that the tankers used on the project would be specially designed and that those designs could be modified to allow them to make the trip safely.

The Weaver's Cove LNG terminal was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005 and has the support of various local unions.

Company officials argued that the project was badly needed to meet the region's growing energy demands.

It met fierce opposition in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which borders the route the tankers would have taken to reach the Fall River site.

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