June 21, 2006

Little Known Law Could Sink Broadwater

It's little more than a ploy designed to subvert the required review process.

That's what the folks at Broadwater Energy had to say in reaction to the news that Suffolk legal experts found an arcane law dating back to the 1880s that gave the county, not the state, regulatory powers over the Long Island Sound.

Since November of 2004, when Broadwater Energy debuted a plan to anchor a Queen Mary-sized Liquid Natural Gas platform off the coast of Wading River, opposition to the idea has been overwhelming. While County Executive Steve Levy was the penultimate local official to weigh in against the plan — Senator Hillary Clinton was the very last to voice opposition — his impassioned oratory last summer at a hearing on the proposal elicited thunderous applause.

In a release heralding the find this week, the county executive said, "We in Suffolk are claiming our statutory role to ensure that this plan is indeed dead in the water." The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission claims lead agency in review of the plan, but approvals from the state and recommendations from the Coast Guard also weigh.

Last week lawmakers used provisions in New York State law giving authority over the Sound to Suffolk as a springboard toward crafting a bill preventing the construction of LNG facilities in the sound.

The CE did not return calls asking why it took so long to find the laws. However, consideration of the time it took to actually get the law firm Farrell Fritz on board may provide the answer.

In March of 2005, a coalition of legislators put forth two bills - one in opposition to the Broadwater proposal and another looking to retain private counsel to represent Suffolk's interest. While the bill expressing opposition was passed, the one seeking counsel was tabled for close to six months. Lawmakers looked askance at the notion of expressing opposition while at the same time hiring counsel. They wanted to do a study to determine the efficacy and safety of LNG facilities. Legislator Vivian Fisher, who is running for county clerk on the Democratic ticket, was quoted at the time wanting to know more about the proposal before committing to what could be an expensive legal battle.

This week she was among the leaders sponsoring the new bill. If it is adopted and endures a certain legal challenge the law would, in effect, render Broadwater's application moot.

Last week John Hritcko of Broadwater complained that while Long Islanders continue to pay the highest prices for energy, "Suffolk County continues to have attorneys go after novel ideas to subvert the process." He admitted that if the legal strategy proved true, it would stop the review process in its tracks. Hritcko contends that there are a lot of people and institutions in the county who want to see the review process proceed. None have made the support public, however.

In other Broadwater news, on June 28 members of the Long Island delegation to the state legislature will host an informational meeting at 7 p.m. at the Inn at East Wind in Wading River.

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