2009-04-24 / Front Page

LNG Island On Rockaway's Horizon

By Howard Schwach

After five hours of presentations, lots of questions and few answers, there are only two things that are clear concerning the proposal to place a massive man-made Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal off the Rockaway beachfront: the great majority of locals and environmental groups present at recent meetings say that they are opposed to the project and the process is such that no final decisions will be made on the project any time soon.

The great majority of the crowd at PS 114 last Sunday was opposed to the plan to place a massive LNG terminal right off the shore of Rockaway.
More than 250 people attended the U.S. Coast Guard-sponsored informational meeting at PS 114 in Belle Harbor last Sunday, the great majority Rockaway residents and environmentalists from around the city.

The school's gymnasium was set up for informal presentations and the split between environmental groups and the Atlantic Sea Group, the developers who want to build the multi-million dollar LNG terminal less than 20 miles from Rockaway, was evident as soon as one walked into the room.

Congressman Anthony Weiner said that he was reserving judgment on the proposal until all the facts are in.
The setup of the room was representative of the brewing battle over the project, with the developers on one side, the environmentalists on the other and the Coast Guard in the center.

To the right of the door was a series of presentation boards set up by the developers and manned by Greg Lowdermilk, the company's public safety and security director, and Gary Lewi, a media specialist from Rubinstein Communications, who handles the company's public relations.

To their left was a series of tables and presentation boards set up by the U.S. Coast Guard that detailed the process leading up to the decision to license or not license the project.

To the Coast Guard's right were tables hosted by environmental specialists from the Clean Ocean Action group in New Jersey, the local EcoWatchers and the Surfriders.

The Coast Guard was strictly neutral, stating that it was "neither in favor or opposed" to the project, but tasked with doing an investigation and coming up with an Environmental Impact Statement.

Officials of the Atlantic Sea Island Group speak with locals, pointing out the benefits of their proposed LNG terminal.
The others in the room, the developers and the environmental groups, did their best to convince those who walked the room looking for information that the truth was on their side.

Mark Prescott, an engineer who heads the Coast Guard's Deepwater Ports Division, and who is tasked with completing the Environmental Impact Statement, told The Wave that a final decision is far off.

In fact, he said, the information needed for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the next step in the process, will probably not be available until late August or early September.

"We have to get tons of information," Prescott said. "We have to analyze it and then verify it. Only then can we write the draft impact statement. We still need some information and that will come in August at the earliest, and probably later. This is an extremely challenging process, and we have to get it done in a timely fashion."

A chart prepared by the developers shows the location of the proposed facility off Rockaway's shoreline.
After the Coast Guard publishes the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a 45-day public comment period begins, and another public meeting will be held to discuss its findings and get comment. While the meeting may not be held in Rockaway, because the requirement is for one meeting in each state impacted by the project, Prescott told the large audience at the school that he would publish a meeting notice in local Rockaway publications.

Chances are, experts say, that the meeting will be held either in Long Beach or someplace else in Nassau County.

When the comment period and the meetings end, the Coast Guard will then issue a final Environmental Impact Statement and another 45-day comment period and more public meetings will be triggered.

Then, everything goes to the federal Maritime Administration, where the final decision will be made.

If the federal Maritime Administrator denies the license, everything ends. If the feds approve the license, however, Governor David Paterson has 45 days to veto the decision. If he does not veto the approval in writing, however, by federal law Paterson is then presumed to have approved it, and a license is issued.

Environmental groups such as New Jersey's Clean Ocean Action took part in the informational presentations.
The entire process, experts say, will most likely take us into mid-2010, or even later.

Dozens of locals testified at the meeting.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer said that she opposed the plan, stating, "This is a project that derives absolutely no public good. Building a more than 60- acre man-made island, that has a 116-acre seafloor footprint, would have a devastating effect on our fish habitat, marine life and ecosystem. The environmentally sensitive waterways of our community can not be jeopardized by this project."

"The Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers oppose the proposed LNG island project as it will do tremendous damage to the Cholera Bank fishing grounds, a sensitive and productive marine habitat," said Dan Mundy, the organization's president. "This is the first step in an attempt to industrialize our coastal ocean zone."

A Coast Guard lieutenant speaks with a resident about the proposal and the process.
"We're greatly concerned that this massive development will significantly impact marine fish and wildlife populations," said Don Riepe, the director of the local American Littoral Society.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, who asked the Coast Guard to host an additional meeting for Rockaway residents, said that he was reserving judgment on the proposal until all the facts are in.

"Nowhere has anybody contemplated doing something like this," Weiner said. "There are more questions than answers at this point. We have to come up with a list of the things we want [the Coast Guard] to look at. It's not like they can go and look at another similar facility to see what happens. There is no other facility. I personally need to know that they are taking unprecedented steps to protect it."

"The water is the reason most people live in Rockaway," Weiner added. "We don't take interference with the water kindly. Don't forget, Rockaway is the place that argued over dunes for 15 years."

Ray Elmer, a Long Beach resident who sits on the city's council, dropped a bomb when he informed the audience that the politically powerful ex-Senator Alphonse D'Amato was hired as a lobbyist by the developers.

D'Amato is seen by many as one of the most powerful men in the state, and appeared on the stage with David Paterson when he was sworn in as governor.

"That could change everything," Elmer said. "But you don't build an industrial island off the coast of a residential island like the south shore of Long Island."

A spokesman for the developers said, "Science, security and the economics of powering our region support this proposal. The New York metro region is going to continue to demand more LNG far into the future. There seems to be little support for its alternatives such as coal, nuclear and oil and while the Governor is suggesting wind off our coast, the energy industry needs to ascertain the economics of that proposal. This plan puts an LNG terminal far from an urban center yet close enough to tap into existing underwater gas lines. Its presence will create a protected fish habitat while minimizing interference with commercial shipping coming into New York Harbor. It couldn't be seen from the Rockaways but its impact on the competitive forces of heating our region would be real and positive.

"The science behind this plan is based on mature technology and millions of dollars of environmental studies that are available for review and public comment. We are not a major source of air emissions and we would discharge fresh water derived from moisture in the atmosphere. The economics of this proposal would use private money to create 5 million hours of construction jobs. The ongoing operation of Safe Harbor Energy will create another 3.5 million hours of jobs in the local area. Lower energy bills for the residents should be a result of the increased supply and competitive forces in the marketplace. The economic benefit will be enormous with the creation of over 8.4 million labor hours and wages totaling $840 million.

"We recognize that any proposal for any project of consequence, anywhere, is going to spark debate and discussion. We welcome that dialogue because the science behind this proposal is clear, unequivocal and subject to independent analysis and testing. At the end of the day, the New York metro area is going to need energy. How do we deliver it safely, generating competition in the marketplace so that the consumer benefits, while creating jobs and economic growth, is answered through this project."

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