The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

2009 July 24

Council votes to withdraw LNG comments

by Lora Whelan

The Eastport City Council workshop held the evening of July 20 lasted 10 minutes. Council President Brian Schuth recapped the reasons for the workshop: to determine the city council's course of action regarding the city's July 6 comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Downeast LNG's draft environmental impact statement (EIS). The comments were written and submitted to FERC by Schuth and Scott Sells, an attorney retained by the city, as a part of FERC's public comment process and seek to address "certain issues that Eastport believes are particularly relevant to the impacts the project may have on the city and its citizens, visitors and workers," according to the comment letter. The general comments section also notes that the city "does not take a position 'in support of' or 'against' the development of LNG facilities in the region." After the comments were submitted, councillors voiced their concern with both the language of the comments and the fact that they were not consulted by Schuth on the comments' content before they were submitted.

The city's comments elicited criticism from pilots Gerald Morrison of Perry and Robert Peacock of Eastport, some members of the public and Robert Wyatt of Downeast LNG because of language that identified an "inherent economic conflict of interest" in the process used to assess "the waterway's suitability as a safe and secure LNG vessel transit route."

The particular phrase that at the July 13 city council meeting Peacock called "appalling" states, "This conflict of interest casts aspersion on their ability to render a true independent and objective assessment." The council's comments expressed concerns about inherent conflict of interest by quoting from Downeast LNG's EIS, noting that participation in a tasked group, Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, "was through invitation" and included "representatives of the marine industry, pilots, tug operators." An additional quote from Downeast's EIS states, "One expected [economic] beneficial impact is the increase in the demand for pilots to guide the LNG vessels... the proposed project would increase employment opportunities for pilots, tug captains, and tug crews...."

At the July 13 council meeting, Wyatt responded to the city's letter to FERC, "We relied on the pilots heavily. It's true I don't think you want me to bring a pilot from Miami up here."

At the July 13 city council meeting, Wyatt, Downeast LNG's environment and permits director, said that after the city's comments were posted many concerns were left on his answering machine about the pilots, and that "lots of websites like to post this information." He then went on to suggest that "just because FERC has closed this document, if you want to do something about this error, nothing says you can't submit another comment."

After explaining the city council's workshop rationale, Schuth presented four options for action: take no action and allow the comments to stand because there will be another option to comment in September; withdraw the comments; submit additional comments that would negate one portion of the previously submitted comments; withdraw comments and submit new comments in September. Schuth stressed that no action could take place at the workshop, but that preparations could be made to expedite action at the August council meeting.

Councillors John Miller, Earl Small and Paul Critchley all agreed with each other that the city should withdraw 26 pages of comments and submit new ones in September. Councillor Julie Leppin was absent from the workshop. In response to the majority opinion, Schuth said, "It's not the most prudent choice; it cuts down FERC's ability to react to September's comments," but he qualified his opinion by saying that he would not stand in the way of the decision. The councillors agreed that they would work to draft new comments to submit by FERC's September deadline and that the action to withdraw the city's comments would be taken at the August council meeting.

After a brief councillor discussion, Schuth called the meeting closed, disallowing public comment. "I don't believe there's anything that will bring new light" to the process, he said. While the public was not permitted to offer their opinions during the workshop, councillors and City Manager George Finch did ask for Wyatt's opinion about FERC's comment process and the ability to submit comments in September.


© 2009 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.