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Coast Guard has safety concerns about LNG terminal plans

WASHINGTON --The Coast Guard says it has safety concerns about a company's plans to use smaller tankers to pass through the opening in a narrow bridge to reach a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River, Mass.

The Coast Guard's stance creates another hurdle for Weaver's Cove Energy, which last month had submitted updated plans to use smaller, specialized tankers to navigate the opening in the old Brightman Street Bridge.

"We're asking them to come back with a revised plan," said Edward LeBlanc, Chief of Waterways Management Division, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England.

Project foes, including U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., inserted a provision in a federal highway bill last summer that prohibited the demolition of the bridge, which does not allow supertankers access to the site.

"It appears the Coast Guard agrees with us that the latest proposal is not only a bad idea, but a dangerous idea," McGovern said. "This clearly shows that this current plan makes absolutely no sense."

The company said it will provide additional information to the Coast Guard to address the issues raised in the letter.

"We will forge ahead with this project," said James Grasso, a company spokesman. "We really need the gas."

The Coast Guard said "extraordinary maneuvers" would be needed for tankers to navigate the waterway between the old and new Brightman Street bridge openings, a distance of 1,100 feet.

"This waterway segment ... affords no margin for navigational error, and appears unsuitable in its current state, when considering the intended vessel size, cargo and number of transits in your proposal," Roy A. Nash, Captain of the Port, Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England, wrote in a March 13 letter to Weaver's Cove.

"There are risks associated with safe navigation through the waterway segment bounded by the new and old Brightman Street bridges for the proposed 120 annual LNG tanker arrivals," Nash also noted.

The project is opposed by Massachusetts and Rhode Island officials, who cite safety concerns and the high levels of security needed by LNG tankers traveling to the terminal through Narragansett Bay.

The smaller tankers that the company had planned to use are 82 feet wide and 725 feet in length, officials said. The old Brightman Street Bridge has a horizontal clearance of 98 feet, according to the company.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the proposed terminal in June. Project foes asked FERC to reconsider, but earlier this year the commissioners gave the project a green light.

After FERC's decision, opponents filed an appeal with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. They alleged that important safety and legal issues were not considered when federal officials approved the project.

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