2009 Mar 27
Strong support for a proposal to site a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project within the city limits of Calais was expressed by numerous speakers at a March 24 public informational meeting sponsored by the company, Calais LNG. The five‑hour evening meeting held at the Washington County Community College gymnasium attracted more than 200 people. The proposed Calais LNG project would be located seven miles south of downtown Calais on a 330‑acre site along the banks of the St. Croix River.
Calais Mayor Vinton Cassidy welcomed company representatives, scientists retained by the company and the public to the meeting. He said the Calais City Council endorses the project and noted that the shipping industry supported the Calais economy for 200 years, "and this is another form of shipping."
Project development managers Art Gelber of the Texas‑based firm Gelber Associates and Ian Emery of Cutler introduced the scientists who discussed their work in assessing the project in regards to siting, and the anticipated environmental impacts of the proposed project. The necessary licenses for the project were also listed. Maine law requires that project applicants conduct informational meetings prior to submitting a licensing application to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Environmental assessments and surveys conducted during 2008 included identifying wildlife habitats and mapping wetland areas; conducting geotechnical borings at the terminal site and visual impact studies; and completing the first phase of a comprehensive archeological and cultural resource survey. According to Gelber and Emery, the studies support their conviction that the proposed LNG terminal would have minimal environmental impacts. The team also set 180 lobster traps to evaluate lobster population and migration patterns near the proposed terminal. The studies indicate there is limited lobstering in the immediate proximity of the project.
Janet Robinson of Woodward and Curran Environmental Services, a Portland‑based company, noted that wetlands highly regulate the effects the operation would have. She described the impacts as minor at the terminal site and along the pipeline route. There would only be two acres of wetland loss. Visual impact from the project was described as minor.
Speakers stressed the need for economic development in Washington County. The recent announcement that Domtar Corporation, the county's largest employer, would idle its Baileyville mill seemed to be on the minds of many area residents. Several speakers stated the lack of jobs in the area forces young people to leave the area and breaks the family circle.
Former state senator Harold Silverman of Calais expressed hope for a change in the economic conditions that have led to out‑of‑state migration. "May we be able to put our next generation back to work in Washington County," he said. "There is a difference between no development and safe development." He noted that nitrates are carried to the Canadian port at Bayside on the opposite side of the river and there is a major visual effect of the Canadian port operation viewed from the American side.
Comments by Captain Robert J. Peacock II of Eastport were read. Peacock is currently a harbor pilot for Eastport. He has sailed for 20 years and served as master for 14 years aboard tankers including the Atlantic, the largest ship ever built in the Western Hemisphere. He started piloting in Head Harbour Passage and Eastport in 1976 and has over 970 trips as pilot of ships there. "When Washington County prospered, it was because we used the sea as our highway and recognized that our greatest asset is the depth of the ice-free waters available to move our goods produced inland from forests fields and factories. As Washington County's economy has faltered since the 1950s, it is because of the direct impact of failing to use the sea to our advantage." He added, "As ship pilots, Captain Morrison, Captain Matthews and I have been training for LNG now for four years. We constantly upgrade our skills, study the waters, and learn more about the LNG ships and LNG tugs. We can safely do the work. We live here. We are ready. We support Calais LNG."
Information provided by Calais LNG states the project represents an $800 million investment for Maine and Washington County and total employment will peak at nearly 1,000 jobs during a 48‑month construction period. If constructed, the facility would employ between 100‑110 people, including 30‑40 new jobs for tugboat operators and their crews. It is also stated local tax revenues from the LNG facility could enable the city of Calais to lower its property tax rate by 85 percent or an estimated $2.75 million in new local tax revenue.
Kevin Shorey of Calais stated, "I am representing the Washington County board of commissioners. We enthusiastically support this project. The economy of Maine and Washington County is on thin ice. Calais LNG gives new hope. This project will recharge our economy. We whole heartily support Calais LNG." Robert Tyler conveyed the support of the Sunrise County Economic Council for the LNG project, and Washington County Manager Linda Pagels‑Wentworth spoke in support of the project. Statements also were read from the members of the Washington County legislative delegation expressing the need for the project.
Tom Webster of Calais said, "This is an opportunity to provide tax relief to Calais, an opportunity for young people to have good jobs. The St. Croix River has always been used. It is our turn to have something in Calais."
A Calais bed and breakfast owner said he would like to see an opportunity for people to remain in the area. He expressed the opinion that LNG will not ruin the bay. He said the Americans have never tried to stymie the efforts of Canadians in using the St. Croix waters.
Jane Delmonaco believes the endangered species in Washington County is young people and the whole family unit. She cited the toll unemployment is taking on families.
Dr. David Feiner, a Calais physician, wondered what the real hazard is and what is hype. "I haven't heard an objection that would stand up. The mechanics for transporting it are safe." He pointed out that energy used in cooking can cause pollutants. As for visual impacts from the project, Feiner said, "Plant a tree."
Gelber summed up his feelings about the project, stating, "This site is appropriate. It is a quality site. We got the science right and the site right."
There was no opposition to the project publicly stated at the meeting.
© 2009 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.