January 17, 2007
Hundreds Still Hate It
James Martin of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acknowledged the prevailing sentiment, offering the rules at the outset of the hearing on the Broadwater plan last Thursday night.
With hundreds jockeying outside of the auditorium for a view of the proceedings, much less a chance to speak, Martin asked those wishing to address officials to be cognizant of time constraints and repetition. He advised, "If you hear someone make the same comment you can say you endorse those who either oppose or . . ." He paused; looking around the crammed auditorium at the Shoreham-Wading River middle school, then continued, "Well, oppose the project."
Over the course of two nights last week well over a thousand opponents to Broadwater Energy's plan to site a gargantuan Liquid Natural Gas platform on the Long Island Sound off the coast of Wading River sought a chance to express their ire. On Thursday night an overflow crowd packed the school, filling the auditorium and the gymnasium, where attendees could only hear proceedings over giant speakers.
Many complained of FERC's choice of hearing site, excoriating the feds for selecting such a small space. The parking lot at the school was filled to capacity 30 minutes before the start of the outing and cars were parked up and down Randall Road stretching all the way to Route 25A in Shoreham.
The hearing was the next step in the environmental review of the project. The public was invited to address representatives from the FERC, the Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Coastal Management program, the U.S. Coast Guard and the consulting firm assisting with the compilation of an environmental impact statement.
For the first hour and a half, the public spoke through its elected officials, with representatives from a variety of levels of government, from federal down to town weighing in in opposition to the plan. Throughout the course of the commentary, several facets of the complex project served as focal points. Speakers excoriated FERC's preliminary determination that the project would have little impact on the environment, lambasted the applicant's failure to highlight safety issues surrounding the project, and refuted the contention that Broadwater is the magic potion to solve Long Island's energy ills.
Adrienne Esposito and Maureen Dolan Murphy of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment were among speakers directing their comments to the last issue. FERC itself has estimated that between eight and 10 LNG platforms would meet the energy needs for the entire nation. FERC has already green-lighted 17 projects and there are another 40 on the docket, Dolan pointed out, noting "an abundance" of LNG projects proposed in the Northeast.
Esposito spoke of other projects, such as a buried pipeline off the coast of Massachusetts, that offers less impact to the environment. Even with that lower impact, however, officials have agreed to an estimated $50 million settlement to mitigate the harm to the environment and maritime industries. If FERC itself called for this settlement because of the damage that less intrusive project will have, how could Broadwater be deemed innocuous, she asked rhetorically.
Comments relating to public safety elicited the loudest outcry from the audience. North Fork Assemblyman Marc Alessi brought many attendees to their feet with his passionate condemnation of the portion of the review that relates to safety. During its analysis, the Coast Guard admitted that it doesn't have the wherewithal alone to handle a large-scale accident on the platform, or provide the needed round the clock security. Broadwater has suggested it hire its own security firm, which speakers derided as "rent-a-cops."
It was also suggested that fire and EMS personnel from neighboring municipalities be called upon to assist in the event of an emergency. Alessi prompted thunderous applause with, "I ask you: how is it just that local taxpayers and first responders will be forced to bear the burden of providing security to something that will no doubt fatten the pockets of energy executives who have never set foot on Long Island?" Both Riverhead supervisor Phil Cardinale and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian Foley told officials their volunteers will not shoulder that burden.
Many speakers criticized the federal process. State Senator Ken LaValle hinted at bias by federal reviewers, stating at the outset of his oration that he would only direct his comments to state officials present. Harkening back to the fight to prevent the Shoreham Nuclear power plant during the '80s, he said, "Many feel this process with FERC is as corrupted as the process before."
His counterpart in the state assembly Fred Thiele also expressed suspicion. He recalled that over two years ago when Broadwater officials met with the Long Island delegation at the outset of their quest for approval, he asked them if they'd withdraw their application if the majority of residents objected to it. According to Thiele, Broadwater reps said they would. Given what has occurred since the proposal was publicized, Thiele said, "I'm not sure that statement has any more credibility than what is in their environmental review."
Officials will continue to take written comment until January 23.