2009 July 24
There was a full house at the July 13 Eastport City Council meeting. Generally city council meetings are graced by the presence of two or three members of the public. On this occasion, approximately 20 people were in attendance to show their support for pilots Gerald Morrison of Perry and Bob Peacock of Eastport after the city submitted a document of comments as a part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's public comment period on Downeast LNG's draft environmental impact statement.
At the start of the LNG discussion, council President Brian Schuth explained that the comments from the city made to FERC were for "raising issues that should be mitigated; that is the point of this process." Schuth then noted that he had been appointed as the city's LNG liaison two years ago. He outlined the four areas of concern that were raised in the comments: mismeasurement of the region's seasonal population changes when considering safety zones; the lack of consideration for the potential impact on the port; lack of consideration for a number of proposed tidal projects that have their own FERC dockets; the lack of an adequate emergency plan with a cost share plan; and a conflict-of-interest in regards to the waterway assessment. Schuth stressed that the comments submitted to FERC were written by himself and the city's lawyer, and because of a lack of timeliness, did not allow for sufficient input from the other councillors before being sent to FERC. This lack of input led to some "unfortunate" language, he said, about the harbor pilots that states, "This conflict of interest casts aspersion on their ability to render a true independent and objective assessment" when it came to the pilots conducting assessments of the safety of the waterway. "I should have written this better," said Schuth.
The chairman apologized to the pilots and noted that it had not been his intention in any way to question their integrity or competence as pilots. He then apologized to the councillors for not including them in the process but also suggested that all councillors need to be involved in these kinds of issues so that more informed decisions can be made. "There was no intention to hide the process," he said.
Councillor Julie Leppin expressed her strong disapproval of Schuth's wording and the lack of involvement of other councillors in the writing and final review of the comments. "I hope that it will never, ever happen again." As for the conflict-of-interest, Schuth did not argue the point but suggested that the waterway assessment "was the most important safety issue" and that his understanding of conflict-of-interest might differ. In a separate interview Schuth clarified his point, saying, "The problem here is that 'disinterested' certainly should not mean 'less knowledgeable.' The people with the most knowledge about the waterway are also those who stand to benefit materially. If you believe that conflict-of-interest is a problem, this is a flaw in the [FERC] process. The comment was intended to acknowledge this obvious truth, and to suggest that a disinterested review of the waterway assessment be conducted, if possible. I am not sure it is possible but felt the issue needed to be raised."
During the public comment section of the LNG discussion, Morrison said that reading the report "was a real slap in the face. I made phone calls, and nobody knew what was going on. I was real upset, and I'm real upset still." Peacock then submitted binders to the councillors that listed his licenses, training documents and certificates, continuing education courses, USNR Navy correspondence courses, years of sea service, tug and barge pilot service as well as additional information. He accepted Schuth's apology and suggested, "If we're going to go forward, we need to work together." Peacock then said that he would be happy to assist with a third party waterway's assessment, as he pointed out the pilots have done in the past.
The councillors have set a public workshop meeting for Tuesday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Shead band room to discuss Downeast LNG, the city's responsibilities and the FERC process.
Finch reported that as of June the year-to-date excise tax had come in at $175,362. A citizens' initiative in November could potentially reduce city revenue through this means. The city manager estimates that this could cost the city about $72,000 per year in lost revenue and could necessitate increasing the mill rate to make up the difference.
© 2009 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.