2007 Jul 27
by Marie Jones Holmes and Edward French
Five days of hearings conducted by the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) concerning various aspects of Downeast LNG's proposal to build a terminal to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a tank storage facility at Mill Cove in Robbinston came to an end on July 21. By the end of the week, BEP board members, lawyers, various experts representing both project supporters and opponents and the public appeared ready to take a break for a while. BEP Chairman Virginia Plummer said the hearing record would be held open for 15 days to allow the submittal of additional material requested by the board from both Downeast LNG and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The first day of the BEP hearings, held at the Calais High School auditorium, covered testimony from Downeast LNG. Attorney Ron Kreisman, representing Save Passamaquoddy Bay and the Passamaquoddy tribal group Nulankeyutomonen Nkihtankomikumon, both opponents of the LNG project at Mill Cove, repeatedly questioned Downeast LNG President Dean Girdis about the number of LNG ships that would transit the area if the project is put in place. In Downeast LNG applications, filed with the BEP and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it was stated that as many as 60 ships a year would transit Passamaquoddy Bay to reach the Mill Cove terminal facility. Attorney Kreisman asked Girdis, "If you could do the math for me, tell me how many trips these tankers will make." Girdis replied, "Fifty-two maximum per year." Girdis explained that Downeast LNG had estimated an LNG delivery tanker once every five days in the winter and once every eight to 10 days in the summer. Kreisman then asked that BEP impose a limit of 52 tanker deliveries per year. The restriction would be agreeable to Girdis.
Testimony on vernal pools and wetlands that would be affected by the pipeline was taken from a number of biologists. Testimony by a biologist retrained by Downeast LNG indicated that no vernal pools would be affected and wetland loss would be minimized to the greatest extent possible. Horizontal directional drilling for the pipeline would be part of that effort.
Captain Bob Peacock of Eastport, who has served as pilot for hundreds of ships entering and traveling in Passamaquoddy Bay, said, "I can say without doubt there will be no unreasonable impact on the current navigation, recreational, fishing, commercial use, marine mammals or aquaculture along the route." Later in the week, tanker master Doug Lord of Eastport would testify that he also did not see any problems in bringing ships in. When questioned about Stover's Ledge near Campobello, he replied, "I don't think it is a problem." BEP Chairman Plummer also questioned Lord about how the ship would be slowed down in its turn up the river and whether Head Harbour Passage is a navigation hazard. Lord replied, "I don't see anything out of the ordinary."
Project funding was another item of interest to the BEP. Greg Dorr, a lawyer hired to represent the Town of Robbinston, inquired of Girdis about funding for the project. BEP members showed a great deal of interest in how the Mill Cove project would be financed. Girdis replied that roughly 20% of the project is funded with equity from two New York firms, Yorktown Partners and Kestrel Energy Partners, and about 80% of the project funds will be borrowed from either a commercial bank or bond market. Downeast LNG is developing the project, and it is the first project Kestrel has invested in, according to Girdis.
George Lapointe, Maine's marine resources commissioner, and research biologists were questioned on the potential impact of the proposed LNG project on lobsters and other species within Passamaquoddy Bay, and in particular the Mill Cove area. Lapointe described the lobster fishery as "our most important fishery." The value to the state's economy from the lobster industry is about $800 million a year. Lapointe stated, "In my experience the consistent ability to make money in this area is important regionally and individually."
University of Maine researcher Robert Steneck said one of the world's largest concentrations of mature, reproducing female lobsters is just 20 miles from Robbinston. Steneck said offspring from these larger, older females are spread throughout the Maine coast by ocean currents. Steneck said the proposed LNG project site at Robbinston could host similar clusters of large reproducing females. The larger, older females were described as providing a nursery for lobsters along the coast. Steneck recommended a two-year study of the area. Without additional surveying and study of the area, Steneck said he would not feel comfortable about moving forward with the LNG project. "The burden of proof has to be on the applicant in showing that this activity would have no effect, rather than assuming it will have no effect," he stated.
Fred Whoriskey, vice president of research and environment for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, expressed concern that intense lighting at the terminal pier could disorient juvenile salmon headed to the ocean.
Staff from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Protection also discussed concerns about the location of the LNG site near feeding and roosting areas for migratory birds.
Canadian researcher Heike Lotze, research chairwoman of marine renewable resources at Dalhousie University in Halifax, described Passamaquoddy Bay as a "hot spot of species abundance and diversity" for the entire North Atlantic. She noted that powerful currents and dramatic tides create upwelling in the water column, providing food for a number of species. Lotze believes taking tankers through Head Harbour Passage would only increase stress on species in an area critical to feeding, breeding and raising young.
The effect on recreational boating was also a topic of discussion. BEP members questioned how recreational boaters would get around the Mill Cove pier and the waters that the tankers were transiting. Rob Wyatt, the Downeast LNG project coordinator, responded, "Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion out there about safety and security zones. You can go underneath the pier and along the outside edge of the zones." Later in the week, Robbinston resident Michael Footer, who supports the project and is a recreational boater, was asked if he thought security and safety zones would affect recreational boating. "It is a big ship, and I am going to move."
Alluding to reports of whales in Quoddy Bay, Dale Wing, a Robbinston resident and a supporter of the Mill Cove LNG project, said, "I have never seen a whale in the bay." He believes lobster fishing in the cove is marginal. Wing commented, "Some of the talk about the money made in Passamaquoddy Bay is exaggerated." Wing said he and his wife own a small motel in Calais that faces a strip mine on the Canadian side. He said guests like to watch the ships coming into the port of Bayside. "These ships coming into Robbinston will be an attraction," Wing stated. "Concerning safety matters, we came to the conclusion that it is safe."
Approximately 100 people turned out for the public testimony session on the evening of July 17 at the Robbinston Grade School, with 34 taking the opportunity to address the board. Nineteen spoke in favor, 13 in opposition and two neither for nor against.
All but one of those people testifying in favor are residents of Robbinston, with most stressing the need for jobs in this area. Eric Morrell, a 27-year-old resident who noted he has worked a number of jobs to make a living and support his family, commented, "If something doesn't turn around in the town of Robbinston... things are becoming really hard right now."
Many said that the impact on the environment, tourism, the fisheries or recreational uses in the area of the project would be minimal. Asked by a BEP member if he had observed any duck hunters in the Mill Cove area, James Morrell quickly responded, "No, never seen one, but I'll guarantee you this -- if we get hungry enough there probably will be." Martin Ingham of Robbinston stated that Passamaquoddy Bay is not pristine and has been filled with industry for centuries. "It's a working waterfront that doesn't need special preservation."
As for visual impact, Barbara Stanhope of Robbinston observed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, noting, as a number of residents did, that they like to watch the ships that go to the port of Bayside. "I think the boats are beautiful, and I think the pier is beautiful." Commenting that he would want to watch the LNG vessels come in, Merrill Brooks stated, "There's very little around exciting," bringing laughter from both sides.
Several also commented on the Canadian opposition to the project, arguing that there would be less light "pollution" than comes from St. Andrews and noting the lack of Canadian opposition to the Irving LNG terminal at Saint John and the Point Lepreau nuclear plant.
Those speaking against the project also brought conviction to their arguments. Fred Hartman of Whiting noted that Mill Cove is an important area for ducks and felt that waterfowl will be detrimentally affected by the LNG terminal. Vivian Newman of South Thomaston, representing the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, argued that any new infrastructure for fossil fuels affects the climate through greenhouse gases. She felt that a needs assessment should be conducted. Nancy Asante of Perry pointed to three recent studies concerning the Washington County economy, all of which mention the county's scenic beauty, its drawing power for tourists, the potential to develop its resources, and the need to keep such development to a scale that will not disrupt the qualities that make it special. While people have worked to build up the tourism and fishing industries, "the Downeast LNG project would tear down literally and figuratively everything we have struggled so hard to achieve."
Others testifying warned of the possibility of a catastrophic accident happening, and Alan Furth of Trescott argued against relinquishing the bay to "the ravages of the petrochemical industry." Residents who actually live in one of the nine homes near the proposed terminal site mostly spoke in opposition to the proposal. One, Carmen Small, spoke neither for nor against the proposal but was concerned about the lighting at the LNG terminal, commenting, "I like to go down there and see the Big Dipper and show my son." She also spoke of the dramatic increase in black ducks and the cormorants and eagles around Mill Cove. Noting that the area has clams, periwinkles, urchins, sand dollars and seals, she observed, "It's priceless stuff you don't see anywhere."
Another session for public testimony was held in Calais on the evening of July 19.
The BEP adjourned the LNG hearings in the area on July 20, leaving the record open until their regular board meeting in Augusta on August 2 in order to receive additional information from the DMR on relocation of lobsters, a simple explanation of the life cycle of lobsters, the effect of noise on herring, the effect of prop wash at the proposed pier, and the data on why Mill Cove is closed to the harvesting of clams.
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.