August 16, 2006

Designed To Tank The Tankers, Broadwater Bill Passes

It might spark a lawsuit, but for most members of the county legislature retaining local control over the Long Island Sound is apparently a battle worth fighting. Last week, in a 16-2 vote, the legislature endorsed a law geared toward prohibiting the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas terminals in the environmentally sensitive water body.

Debuted by County Executive Steve Levy earlier this summer, the bill harkens back to an old law that he and his legal advisors believe gives Suffolk County the power to say what can happen in the Sound. And since the end of 2004 when Broadwater Energy first applied to place a Queen Mary-sized floating LNG platform off the coast of Wading River, most Long Island government representatives have voiced ardent opposition to that happening in the Sound.

Even more ardent has been their ire at the notion that the federal government has a final say over whether the Broadwater project can go through or not. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the lead reviewing agency for the project.

Last summer the legislature voted to retain outside counsel to represent the interests of county residents as the Broadwater application process progressed. Legal experts ferreted out a law that dates back to the 1880s. It gives Suffolk regulatory powers over the Sound, they contend.

According to Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, one of the advocacy groups that's been at the forefront of the anti-Broadwater movement, discussion of the bill in committee last month was "surprising." Legislator Tom Barraga (R. West Islip), a member who took a seat on the horseshoe in January following a stint as a state rep, claimed he needed to know more about the Broadwater proposal before he could vote for the bill. Between committee and last week's vote, it appears he didn't have the chance to get up to speed on what has arguably been the most publicized issue before the lawmakers for the last 18 months. He cast one of just two No votes. Legislator John Kennedy (R. Nesconset) cast the second.

During committee discussion Democratic Legislator Rick Montano (Central Islip) reportedly characterized the bill as "flaky." An attorney, he worried that the measure would trigger an expensive legal challenge, ultimately casting a vote in favor nonetheless.

During testimony before the full legislature last week, Esposito acknowledged a potential legal battle on the horizon. She reminded that Suffolk County has never shrunk from such a challenge when the cause was important. Responding to the August 8 vote, she said, "We are delighted that the legislature has strengthened their hand in the battle to fight Broadwater. This legislation sends a clear message to the federal government that Suffolk County is willing to fight to protect the Long Island Sound. This is the right thing to do and is an appropriate response to Broadwater's hostile takeover attempt of this critical natural resource."

When the bill premiered earlier this summer, Broadwater's vice president John Hritcko derided it as little more than an attempt to subvert the lawful review process of the application. Speaking to The Independent this week, Broadwater rep Amy Kelley said the courts will have to determine whether the law Levy's proposal invokes is still valid.

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