Thursday, April 23, 2009

Residents, Officials Testify Against LNG Island Plan

Group Wants to Build Facility 13 Miles Offshore

By Conor Greene

More than 100 residents and elected officials crowded into the auditorium at PS 114 in Belle Harbor on Sunday to air concerns about a company’s proposal to build an island off the Rockaway coast to store and process imported liquid natural gas.

The Atlantic Sea Island Group has submitted an application to the federal government seeking the permits needed to construct the island about 13 miles offshore from Long Beach. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who lobbied the Coast Guard to hold the hearing after two others took place on Long Island and in New Jersey, called the proposal “unprecedented” but said he is keeping an open mind on the idea.

However, other local elected officials took a strong stance against the proposal, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Councilman Eric Ulrich. Groups including the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers and the Surfrider Foundation also spoke against the plan.

The public hearing was part of the Coast Guard’s effort to create an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to determine whether approval should be granted. While issuing permits for these types of projects falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Maritime Administration, Gov. David Paterson has the option of vetoing the application.

According to the application, the Safe Harbor Energy Island would be at least 60 acres at the water surface and more than 110 acres at the ocean floor. It would require about 700,000 truckloads of fill and would be about 14 times larger than Giants Stadium. Tankers would deliver the liquid natural gas from foreign nations, before the substance is converted back into natural gas and distributed through pipelines.

Weiner declined to take a position on the proposal, noting that “right now we have far more questions than answers.” He said there have been several other similar applications filed in the past, including for a facility in the Long Island Sound that was rejected by Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, “but nothing like this.”

“In 2009, knowing what we do about the environment, does having LNG brought here… help us towards energy independence, or does it asseverate the path we’re already on?” wondered Rep. Weiner. “It’s not like what we’ve seen before. I want to hear what the experts have to say.” Still, he recognized that the Rockaway peninsula is the most heavily populated barrier island in the world and home to many people concerned about the environment. “Our relationship with the water is not just a casual one,” he said.

However, other elected officials and environmental groups are already certain that this project will not benefit local residents and isn’t worth the risks or negative impact on the environment. Pheffer argued that only the corporation would benefit from the island and vowed to ask Gov. Paterson to veto the application

“I join the Surfrider Foundation, the Eco Watchers and countless other community groups in expressing my opposition,” said Pheffer to loud applause. “The environmentally-sensitive waterways of our community cannot be jeopardized by this project… The safety and wellbeing of my community cannot and will not be jeopardized” by a project that would be “significantly intrusive and incredibly harmful to the local and global environment.”

Ulrich, who was recently elected to the City Council, said he opposes the plan for several reasons. First, he questioned the need to import liquid natural gas from foreign nations when “American natural gas is in abundance… made right here by American workers.” He is also concerned about impacts on the environment and wondered where the governor stands on the issue. “Is he going to flip like Jon Corzine in New Jersey and sign off on this proposal?” asked Ulrich.

Others including Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, Community Board 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr and Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg testified against the proposal.

Dan Mundy, Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers said he is concerned about the impact it would have on “the very important habitat [which is] home to many species” and the potential terror target it would create. “It will put the local population at risk as a first-of-its-kind project,” he said. “There is no way at the end of the day you can turn around and guarantee to us there won’t be a problem.

In a statement, the Surfrider Foundation noted that LNG must be cooled to -265 degrees Fahrenheit to be converted back to natural gas. As a result of that process, its carbon footprint is roughly equivalent to coal. In addition, it is only available from foreign sources, and if spilled, is extremely flammable and can be ignited by something as innocuous as a boat engine or cell phone.

“The people of Long Beach and their City Council gave a loud, unanimous “no” to LNG after the hearing in January,” said Chris Wade, chair of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter. “But now that we’ve had a hearing in the light of day, here in New York City, we hope that Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council will come out against LNG as well,” he said.

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