2007 Jun 8
by Edward French
Navigational risks, impacts on commercial fisheries and possible dangers posed by an accident by an LNG tanker will likely be among the subjects of dispute at the Maine Board of Environmental Protection's hearing on the Downeast LNG application in July, based on pre-filed testimony by the applicant and intervenors in the case. The developer for the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Robbinston and opponents have widely differing views on these topics.
The board will be holding the hearing beginning Monday, July 16, for several days. During the day, the hearing will be held at the Calais High School, but evening sessions for public comments will be held at the Robbinston Grade School on Tuesday, July 17, and possibly Thursday, July 19.
During a pre-hearing conference in Augusta by the board's chairman, Virginia Plummer, on June 12, a motion by Downeast LNG to eliminate the testimony provided by Save Passamaquoddy Bay will be considered. Downeast LNG's attorney, Matthew Manahan of Pierce Atwood in Portland, requests that the testimony be stricken because it addresses subjects that have been excluded from the issues to be addressed at the board's hearing, it includes witnesses who were not included on the witness list, portions of the testimony are missing or improperly filed or were not properly sworn. Concerning Downeast LNG's request to have the public testimony dismissed, Linda Godfrey, coordinator of Save Passamaquoddy Bay, comments, "I think this latest tactic defies believability, especially in regard to the months that the public has been told that they are open and eager for the public to play a role in this process."
The impact on the lobster fishery is one area of dispute between the developer and opponents. In testimony presented for Downeast LNG, Christopher Heinig, president of MER Assessment Corporation of Brunswick, stated that according to local commercial fishermen and the Department of Marine Resources patrol officer for the area, only a few species are harvested commercially near the pier. "Lobsters are fished in the subtidal area in the general vicinity of the pier site by six to eight fishermen, although only two are reported to fish in Mill Cove proper." Also, scallop and urchin draggers only fish the area for a few days before moving on to other areas. "While some changes in commercial and recreational fishing paths within the immediate area surrounding the facility are anticipated, such changes will not result in an unreasonable interference with access to commercial and recreational resources."
His views are echoed by John Egan, a self-employed LNG marine consultant in Norwich, Conn., who has served as marine supervisor of the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal in Maryland. He stated, "I have observed no negative impact upon fisheries in any waters transited by LNG carriers either in the United States or overseas. In many instances fishing has improved."
Concerning possible impacts on vessel traffic, Egan stated, "The LNG carriers will not impede or block existing marine traffic currently employed on the local waters. Any security zone imposed around a berthed LNG carrier will not significantly impact current usage of the waterway as the LNG carrier will be at the berth only once every five to 10 days and there is ample room for passing vessels to steer clear of the docked LNG carrier and any associated USCG security zone."
However, Harry Shain, a lobsterman from Perry, fears that the LNG pier and exclusion zone "would cut off Mill Cove" and would "devastate the local fishery." He points out that Mill Cove "is some of the most prolific lobster grounds in the area." Shain estimates that approximately 20 fishermen have at least 4,000 traps, over the course of a season, in the five to six-mile stretch from Gleason Cove to Mill Cove. He also mentions that the crab, scallop, urchin, sea cucumber, clam and mussel fisheries would also be affected.
Another Perry fisherman, Peter McPhail, notes that the Downeast LNG pier would be "right where the seed lobsters are." That point is echoed by fisherman Angus McPhail, who states that Mill Cove "is the biggest nursery in Passamaquoddy Bay, at least on the Maine side of it."
Dale Mitchell, a Deer Island fisherman, related his concerns about the impact of the terminal and ships on the herring and other fisheries. He commented, "Terminal lights, ship traffic, pollution, ballast water intakes and discharges would all change our area and negatively impact the fishing industry on both sides of the border."
Maria Recchia, who works for Fundy North Fishermen's Association, also expressed concerns about the impacts on the herring, lobster and other fisheries, stating that the Downeast LNG proposal "would adversely and significantly impact our fishermen's ability to fish."
Robert Steneck, a professor at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences, supports the statements by the lobstermen. He commented, "During my research in the region, I have observed first hand from submarines and using remotely operated vehicles, aggregations of large egg-bearing lobsters in coves the size of Mill Cove." He noted that Downeast LNG's assessment of impacts on the lobster fishery does not mention reproductive concentrations of lobsters in the cove. He describes Downeast LNG's assessment on impacts on commercial species as "deficient."
Captain Robert Peacock II of Quoddy Pilots USA in Eastport, though, stated that with the level of LNG vessel traffic, one round-trip passage every 5 to 7 days in the winter and every 8 to 10 days in the summer, there would not be an "unreasonable interference with the lobster fishing or dragging in this area. There will be no impact from LNG vessels to the weir fishery along Perry shore."
Gino Giumarro, director of Ecological Services at Woodlot Alternatives of Topsham, testified that the development would "not unreasonably impair water quality, fisheries and wildlife" and that the project "is not expected to adversely affect Atlantic salmon populations." However, Fred Whoriskey of St. Andrews, a research scientist and a vice president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, states that the Western Passage area is "a major migration corridor" for both salmon smolts and for large salmon. His primary concern is about the lighting that will be required at the terminal site and about the effect on migration.
Along with the fisheries, the impact on other businesses is also disputed. Stan Lord of Deer Island, who operates East Coast Ferries with ferries running from Deer Island to Eastport and Campobello, estimates if there were three LNG vessels per week, then his service would suffer $108,000 (Canadian) in lost revenue, based on a three-hour delay when vessels are arriving and departing.
However, Peacock says that ship pilots have "good communication" with the ferries to Deer Island and have worked out passing arrangements. "This will not change with the passage of LNG ships."
Disagreement also centers on whether the navigational risks posed by Head Harbour Passage and the Old Sow whirlpool are significant or not. Peacock, who has piloted over 925 ships through Head Harbour Passage, stated that ships calling at the ports of Eastport and Bayside typically are in the range of 650 to 700 feet in length and have a draft of up to 40 feet, which would be deeper than a loaded LNG ship. A typical LNG ship's length is 900 feet, but for many years LASH ships that were 850 feet long called at the port of Eastport. He also points out that the Coast Guard is recommending four LNG-assist tugs. "In each area of navigational concern, there is little to no impact of LNG shipping upon Maine's waters," he stated.
His view is backed up by Lt. Commander David Pertuz, U.S. Coast Guard Retired, who is now a senior consultant at Det Norske Veritas (USA) Inc. and works as a risk management consultant for energy companies. He commented that the route "does include lobster trapping, fish weir and aquaculture activity along the shorelines and it also includes a whirlpool as a result of the ebb and flow of tides that mix with strong currents from the St. Croix River. Experienced pilots familiar with these waters have addressed this whirlpool by timing all vessel transits in this vicinity to coincide with 'slack water' periods. Pilots of LNG vessels would to do the same. Thus, I do not anticipate adverse impacts to navigation from waterway characteristics."
However, Lars Lund, a retired master mariner who lives in Seelye's Cove, N.B., stated that taking the calculated risk of bringing the LNG tankers into Passamaquoddy Bay "is pushing the envelope beyond good sense." Factors that concern him are the number of days of fog and sea smoke and the business pressures that will "push this envelope." He notes that the vessels will have a large "sail" area, making maneuvering in restricted waterways hazardous, and currents run up to six knots. He commented, "A boat of this size has never been brought into Passamaquoddy Bay. The first one will be an experiment." He added, "While it might look on paper to have a smooth operation, it is my experience that in the maritime industry there are so many unforeseen circumstances that will prevent this. Again, there is no room for error."
Paul Templet, a retired professor of environmental studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, also questions the location of the proposed facility. "The LNG facility proposed by Downeast LNG on Mill Cove in Robbinston is in a particularly poor location from a risk perspective. The thermal radiation and flammable vapor risks extend many thousands of feet beyond the shipping route through Passamaquoddy Bay that the LNG carriers must follow," he stated, noting that inhabited areas likely to be impacted are Campobello Island, Sipayik, Eastport, Clam Cove, Fairhaven on Deer Island, Perry and St. Andrews. "It is difficult to understand why the shippers and LNG operators are willing to take such risks at this site. These risks are wholly avoidable." He argues that a location that does not "present the myriad physical obstacles to safe navigation," with a terminal that is either offshore or in a port with direct ocean access and no major obstacles, would significantly decrease the risk and allow a margin for human error. "Given the difficulties with access to the site by tanker and the nearness of the route to populations, the risk is excessive and the site should be avoided."
Heike Lotze, an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has written a 200-page report on Passamaquoddy Bay and the outer Bay of Fundy and argues that the Quoddy region "stands out as one of the few remaining ecologically intact ecosystems on the eastern coast of North America. Its productivity and diversity fuels marine life in the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of Maine and way beyond towards the Arctic and Florida." Arguing that an accident that released LNG vapor would result in the killing of fish and other species in the area, he stated, "Any further disruption and destruction of the ecological intactness of this area would be unforgivable."
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.