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R.I. officials rap gas terminal expansion

Say move would hurt development

PROVIDENCE -- Attorney General Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island says he can imagine the day when the owner of a new waterfront condominium in the state's rebounding capital city will step out on his balcony to enjoy a spectacular view of Narragansett Bay.

But Lynch sees another vista if KeySpan Corp. is allowed to expand its liquefied natural gas terminal along Providence's shoreline, and it's not nearly as pretty. That would be of LNG tankers the length of three football fields parked at an industrial port complex with pipelines, storage tanks, and tractor-trailer trucks.

''Look at a 1,000-foot tanker and power lines outside your window and yuppies with cash in their pocket are going to look for an alternative" to living in Rhode Island, Lynch said.

In an interview this week, Lynch painted a gloomy picture of the effects of expanding the LNG industry in Providence and Fall River, saying it would hurt Rhode Island's economy and disrupt the lives of nearly every resident. He contends that the primary risk is not terrorism, but stifled development and the day-to-day hassles that could come with LNG terminals and tanker traffic on the bay.

''I'm talking about the economic drain," Lynch said. ''People are going to look [at Rhode Island], and say, 'Why would I want to go there?' "

LNG is widely seen as a safe energy source well-suited to meet New England's growing energy needs. But some have warned that LNG terminals could be targets for terrorists -- a recent government report says such an attack could cause major injuries and burns up to a mile away -- meaning intense security must accompany shipments through populated areas.

Lynch and others suggest putting the facilities offshore, away from dense population centers.

Several local and state officials are firmly opposed to expanding the LNG terminal in Providence, saying it could wreck redevelopment plans for the city's rundown waterfront.

Outside the capital, officials say it's the LNG tankers they're concerned about, because they would be accompanied by an expansive security buffer zone that would shut down bridges and keep pleasure boats from sailing when they pass.

''In Newport, we're rebuilding our reputation as the sailing capital of America," said Keith Stokes, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, ''and here out of the blue is this proposal that could disrupt everything that we're working on."

To reach Providence, tankers would have to bypass at least 10 Rhode Island communities with a combined population of nearly half a million people. They'd go 26 miles and cross under four bridges before reaching the Fall River site, proposed by Hess LNG.

In Boston, where one of the nation's four onshore LNG facilities is housed in nearby Everett, tankers traveling to the facility are buffered by a security zone that extends 2 miles in front of the vessel, 1 mile behind it, and more than half a mile on either side. The Tobin Bridge is closed as the escort passes under it, and boating is forbidden within the security zone.

In Narragansett Bay, which reaches into the heart of the state and through its most populated areas, a security escort would also be needed. If a security plan similar to the one in Boston is used, that would probably mean stopping traffic over the Claiborne Pell Bridge, the major route to Newport from the west. It would shut down parts of Newport Harbor and marinas along the bay, keeping hundreds of boats off the water as the security cordon passes, officials said.

Those closures could happen every five days if the KeySpan project is approved, and every three days if the Hess project is also approved, Lynch said.

''This buffer zone shuts down enormous, enormous sections of our bay at a time," he said.

KeySpan contends that details of the security cordon are still being worked out by the Coast Guard and could be very different than what's applied in Boston.

The company said its $100 million terminal project in Providence would pump in money and jobs, while ensuring a stable supply of energy. The company estimates it would spend $60 million in security upgrades and pay at least $61 million in state and local taxes during the next 25 years.

''That's economic benefits, where I come from," KeySpan spokeswoman Carmen Fields said. She added that she believes the terminal would coexist well with any waterfront development.

City leaders say the facility would put a crimp in ideas to convert a 100-acre shoreline stretch of energy tanks and industrial parks into upscale commercial and residential developments. Thomas Deller, director of the city's Department of Planning and Development, said the project, called Narragansett Landing, is expected to be worth billions of dollars to the city.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January, Mayor David Cicilline said the LNG terminal expansion ''will lead to a terrible waste of a major economic opportunity."

Several state and local officials have called on the regulatory commission, which determines where to locate LNG terminals, to analyze the effect any ports and tankers would have on the Ocean State's economy. The commission is analyzing the environmental effects of the two projects, but not the financial impact, agency spokesman Bryan Lee said.

Aside from the impact on residents, Stokes said, Narragansett Bay is a major draw for out-of-state visitors, many of whom may sail in to dine and spend money.

He said he fears traffic from LNG tankers, and their accompanying buffer zones, will drive away those high-end visitors.

''Do you want to sail with something as intrusive as LNG tankers coming up and down the bay?" he asked.

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