2007 February 13
by Member of Parliament Greg Thompson
The debates over a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Maine coast of Passamaquoddy Bay and the sailing of LNG tankers through the Head Harbour Passage have taken many twists and turns in the last few years, but one thing has not changed over time: my position as Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest and the position of my party in both opposition and as the Government of Canada. We remain steadfastly opposed to any such threat to our region in the environmentally sensitive waters of Passamaquoddy Bay and Head Harbour Passage. We have said and we will continue to say no to tanker traffic in those waters. We will not back down.
A recent column submitted to our provincial newspapers by a paid lobbyist for one of the proponents, Downeast LNG, contained the erroneous statement that "Canada's opposition comes without any disclosed factual basis." On the contrary, there has been documented evidence gathered as long ago as 30 years -- when studies were undertaken for a proposed oil refinery in Eastport. Those studies, by the then Department of External Affairs and the departments of Transport and Fisheries and Environment, concluded, "The Passamaquoddy area in which Head Harbour Passage is sited is the least acceptable area for tanker operations." That conclusion was reached after consideration of the value of fisheries, aquatic bird resources and the high level of navigational risk, as well as the risk of pollution, tidal currents, lack of safe anchorages and potential danger from high winds. Nothing has since changed to lessen these risks. In fact, the danger is greater, and the threat to this confined and non-industrial area is much more severe because the size of the tankers is many times larger.
To even consider such an industrial intrusion into this sensitive area of marine life, active fisheries and established tourism can boggle the mind. Head Harbour Passage includes more than a dozen small islands, making it even more unsafe for the larger LNG vessels. The narrow passage between Dog Island, Maine, and Deer Island Point, New Brunswick, is the location of the Old Sow whirlpool. It is cited as a zone of concern by the United States Coast Guard and a security check point.
Passamaquoddy Bay, meanwhile, is a vital component of an area considered one of the marine wonders of the world. Thousands of people earn their livings from these coastal waters, with herring weirs, lobster pounds, salmon farms, clam flats and dulse operations. St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, one of Canada's historic and cultural treasures, comparable to Bar Harbor or Kennebunkport in Maine, with its unspoiled views and clean waters, generates as much as US $280 million annually, which is one third of the total tourist dollars spent in all of New Brunswick. (Try putting an LNG plant near one of those Maine resorts.)
And, of course, Passamaquoddy Bay is home to the North American right whale, which is on the endangered species lists of both Canada and the United States.
There is simply no comparison -- as the proponents and lobbyists have tried to make -- with LNG projects elsewhere because there are no similar concerns of navigation or danger to marine life and people's livelihoods. The proposal for Saint John, for example, is in an industrial zone with clear shipping channels through the middle of the Bay of Fundy. This shipping lane avoids the channels occupied by the right whale. As I stated in a recent interview, Canada is also doing more than its fair share in building new LNG terminals to supply natural gas to the United States -- at a time when most U.S. jurisdictions are rejecting them.
The facts are clear. The position of residents in these coastal areas is also clear. And so is the position of their government. We have said no to the industrialization of Passamaquoddy Bay and the movement of huge tankers through the narrow waters of Head Harbour Passage. I have said, and the prime minister of Canada has confirmed, that "we will use all legal and diplomatic channels to protect the health of our people and the environment." This is our stated and irrevocable position in ongoing inter-governmental discussions. Clear opinions have also been conveyed that there is no right of innocent passage of foreign vessels through these Canadian waters. We have drawn a firm line on the side of protecting Canadians and our environment in this precious area. No amount of lobbying or misrepresentation will change this stance.
Greg Thompson, Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest, is minister of Veterans Affairs and regional minister for New Brunswick.
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.