The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

2007 May 25

BEP votes to allow review of Downeast LNG project to proceed

by Edward French

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) voted unanimously on May 17 to continue with its review of Downeast LNG's application for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Robbinston and not to grant requests to deny the application before holding a hearing on the issue in July. The requests were made by Save Passamaquoddy Bay and associated individuals, Nulankeyutmonen Nkihtahkomikumon (We Take Care of Our Land), Fundy North Fishermen's Association and Fundy Weir Fishermen's Association.

In making its decision, the board considered three issues: whether Downeast LNG can construct the facility within the board's timeframes; whether the company has the financial capacity to undertake the project; and whether Downeast LNG has title, right and interest to the property in Robbinston.

According to Cynthia Bertocci, executive analyst for the BEP, although Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules state that the company must begin construction within two years and complete the project within five years, the board felt that those rules can be varied and are not a reason to stop the project now. Concerning financial capacity, the board agreed that it did not have to decide at this point if the standard has been met, and the issue will be explored during the hearing.

The question of the company having title, right and interest in the property had two parts: the passage of ships to the proposed site and the required exclusion zones. While the board felt that the objections of the Canadian government to the passage of LNG ships through its waters are a significant issue, the question is being considered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State Department. The board decided not to stop the process while awaiting the outcome of the Canadian government's objection.

The exclusion zones around the LNG ships, the pier and the tanks will be for both thermal radiation and flammable vapors. Bear Creek Investments Ltd., an affiliate of Quoddy Bay LNG's parent company, Smith Cogeneration, has acquired land just south of Downeast LNG's proposed site. Quoddy Bay is proposing an LNG terminal at Pleasant Point, south of Downeast LNG's site. In a case of "politics makes strange bedfellows," Bear Creek also raised objections to Downeast LNG's plans, filing a motion to dismiss, as had Save Passamaquoddy Bay. Bear Creek is concerned that the exclusion zone around the Downeast LNG tanks would extend onto its adjoining property and argued that therefore Downeast LNG does not have the necessary right, title and interest over some of the property that it will be required to "use."

Bear Creek is intending to develop a Wabanaki Interpretive and Conference Center on its property and expects to publicly launch the development in the near future. The center would provide access to Pulpit Rock, which the Passamaquoddy Tribe considers culturally important, and would be developed in consultation with the tribe.

Downeast LNG has since rotated its tanks so that the exclusion zone would not extend onto Bear Creek's land. However, Bear Creek, Save Passamaquoddy Bay and the other groups felt the exclusion zones could affect other areas, including Route 1 and another private parcel of land. Since the zones are calculated by the applicant and approved by FERC and include a number of factors, including wind direction and velocity, the board decided it could not make a determination without all of the calculations, and FERC will have to explore the issue, according to Bertocci.

Although not part of the board's consideration at its May 17 meeting, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) has recommended denial of state permits for the Downeast LNG facility under the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Site Location of Development Act, because the project will impact a shorebird area, a tidal waterfowl/wading bird habitat and 14 inland waterfowl, wading bird habitats. If the project is not denied, DIF&W makes numerous recommendations to minimize the impact on shorebirds.

The legislature is in the process of amending the shorebird, waterfowl and wading bird law, with a compromise measure reducing the 250-foot setback for shorebird feeding areas to 100 feet. The impact of that change on DIF&W's recommendation is not clear though.

The BEP will consider DIF&W's recommendation as part of its hearing process. The hearing on the Downeast LNG project is scheduled to be held during the week of July 16, probably for three or four days, at a site near the proposed location. Robbinston selectmen have asked that the hearing be held in Robbinston. While the applicant and intervenors will present testimony and ask questions during the day, evening sessions will be held to allow the public to speak.

Downeast LNG and intervenors in the case have a June 1 deadline for filing evidence and arguments, with responses due by June 22.


© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.