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Panel erupts in dissent over LNG siting report

A majority of the members of a state commission examining the siting of liquefied natural gas terminals in Massachusetts dissented from the panel's final report yesterday, because they say they were given no opportunity to amend the document.

Six legislators on the 18-member commission are angry that the report, formally released yesterday, appears to endorse a controversial LNG terminal proposed on Outer Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, but makes no mention of the other three proposed facilities in Massachusetts. Five of the six also said in a statement that the 14-page report fails to analyze a suite of other environmental and safety issues.

Five other members of the commission, including the state's public safety secretary and the state's energy commissioner, said they want their names removed from the report if they are not allowed to amend it to reflect other concerns they have, including the need to more extensively study storage of LNG.

``It is blatantly suspicious," said state Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Republican from Weymouth who is against the Outer Brewster LNG proposal. Hedlund and other legislators say the LNG siting commission's cochairman, Representative Brian S. Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, appears to have inserted the Outer Brewster language to advance his own agenda: Dempsey filed a pending bill that would allow the island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, to become an LNG terminal.

Hedlund said when he and four other state senators on the commission asked for meetings to amend the document this week, Dempsey refused. ``This is a missed opportunity to do something in the public interest," Hedlund said. He and the four other senators wrote a memo of dissent late Thursday against the document.

Dempsey said in an interview yesterday that the comment timeline for the LNG report was properly followed. He said the Outer Brewster project was mentioned because it is the only one that requires immediate state action, to transfer the land from park use to industrial use. ``We had a number of meetings for the commission. . . . We never indicated we would look at every project," Dempsey said.

The LNG siting commission was formed in the spring to recommend to the Legislature how to handle the increasing number of LNG terminals being proposed to meet growing demand for natural gas. The proposals have been controversial because of concerns about the vulnerability of LNG tankers and terminals to terrorist attacks or catastrophic accidents.

A facility in Fall River has already been approved by federal regulators but is vigorously opposed by community leaders, who say it would endanger nearby residents. A bill pending in the House and Senate seeks to prohibit tankers from reaching Fall River, by requiring that tankers clear bridges by a certain minimum.

Environmental questions, including concerns about the effects on fish, have also arisen over two ocean-based terminals proposed off Gloucester.

Commission members also take issue with language in the report that implies that if an Outer Brewster terminal is built, it would enhance safety. Supporters of the Outer Brewster terminal, near the entrance to Boston Harbor, have argued that it could diminish the need for tankers to travel near populated areas to reach the state's only existing LNG terminal, the Everett Distrigas facility. Opponents of an Outer Brewster terminal, as well as Distrigas officials, have said that construction of a terminal on the island would not reduce the need for weekly deliveries to Everett.

Beth Daley can be reached by email at bdaley@globe.com.

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