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Aquidneck Island Sends Officials to Jamestown to Fight LNG

The Congress of Councils met Wednesday at the Jamestown Recreation Center, bringing together more than 100 state and local officials from municipalities in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, including Middletown, Portsmouth and Newport.

More than 100 concerned residents and elected state and local officials representing Aquidneck Island, Southern Rhode Island and Massachusetts turned out in Jamestown Wednesday morning to show a unified front to fight a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) off-shore facility in Mount Hope Bay with a terminal in Fall River, MA.

The Congress of Councils, a non-partisan environmental advocacy organization, hosted the community forum at the Jamestown Recreation Center beginning with a 7:30 am breakfast, followed by a line-up of speakers that included U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone, Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Evan smith, and Fall River-based attorney Dianne Phillips, who specializes in LNG issues.

Also in attendance was District 12 state Representative Lou DiPalma.

Representing Middletown were Council members Barbara A. VonVillas, Frank A. Bozyan, and Edward Silveira, and Planning Board member Richard "Dick" Adams. Each are running for one of the seven at-large Town Council seats in the next Election.

"This is a physical presence that demonstrates unity of the communities in opposition," said VonVillas, who spoke of town residents' concerns for environmental issues, as well as safety factors and the facility's impact to tourism.

"We're certainly concerned about the safety factors," said VonVillas. "For one thing, with the Naval base, we have a strong military presence on the island. While the threat of terrorism might be small, there's still a threat that this project could become a possible target of terrorism."

State Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued a report in 2005 stating his case against LNG facilities in urban areas as a security risk and copies of his report, along with papers produced by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority that supported the LNG opposition arguments were in no short supply at Wednesday's meeting of the councils.

Additionally, VonVillas worries that the LNG facility could make Mount Hope Bay's waters more vulnerable to environmental disasters akin to the recent BP Gulf oil spill. "There will be four miles of pipeline and the pipeline itself hasn't been tested for over one mile," she said.

Bozyan echoed VonVillas' concerns and they both worried for the livelihoods of Aquidneck Islanders that depend on tourism based on having full access to Mount Hope Bay.

"For 140 times every year, essentially the Bay would have to be closed down," he said, noting how the Weaver's Cove project would require 70 shiploads to travel up and down Mount Hope Bay at high tide under daylight each year, with bridge closures estimated at 15-30 minutes each time a ship passes.

A study funded by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission noted that both the Newport (Pell) and Mount Hope Bridges must close whenever LNG tankers pass underneath and that the new project, if approved, would produce a bridge closure on average every 2.5 to 3.5 days, impact traffic and also limit access to and from Newport Hospital, Aquidneck Island's only hospital.

"It's going to scare off tourists," added VonVillas. "They can go elsewhere instead of the island where they wouldn't have to sit in traffic."

Although no action was taken, the event was an opportunity to bring together the various municipalities to discuss the proposal's environmental impacts and develop general goals of working together to fight the project.

Richard P. "Dick" Adams, a Planning Board member also running for a Middletown Town Council seat, described the event as "invaluable" for town officials to hear about the "complexities of the project," especially from those people who have been fighting it on the front lines. Particularly, he was impressed by the Fall River officials who shared information with the Congress of Councils, based on trial and error from what they've learned in the several years since they've fought LNG from setting up shop in their back yard.

"Fall River has been the pointy end of the spear in this fight," said Adams, after the event. "They have been successful fighting LNG so far. The speakers today were not just there to speak to the choir. It wasn't all just 'Kumbayah.' They were telling us exactly what we, as towns, needed to hear to stop (LNG)."

The Weaver's Cove LNG proposal calls for a terminal to be built in Fall River, MA, to serve natural gas customers in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with a Hess Corporation LNG berth in Mount Hope Bay. LNG tankers—among the largest ships on the sea—would approach the terminal via Mount Hope Bay from the East Passage between Newport and Jamestown, to dock at a proposed berth near Spar Island. Liquified natural gas would then be pumped through a large underwater pipeline to a facility on the Taunton River in Somerset, MA.

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it had again denied Weaver's Cove Energy's appeal of a 2007 decision that determined some waterways leading to the proposed offloading facility were unsuitable for LNG tanker traffic. But locals continue to fight the project because Hess and Weaver's Cove have since moved on to an alternate proposal that calls for a floating terminal in the middle of Mount Hope Bay.

Rhode Island's Save the Bay chapter says the project would require extensive dredging from the bottom of Mount Hope Bay, permanently destroying local fish habitat, endangering the livelihoods of local fishermen, and rendering much of the bay's waterways off-limits to the public.

The community of Jamestown has been one of the key players and driving forces behind forming a united coalition of municipalities to keep the LNG facility out of Mount Hope Bay. Not mincing words, Jamestown officials have formed an "LNG Threat Committee" to focus on fighting the project and spent the recent summer attending town hall and city hall meetings throughout Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts, building a coalition and town-by-town and city-by-city. 

On Wednesday, the Jamestown Town Council called upon each community at the forum to appoint one or two town representatives, or legal counsel, to participate in four upcoming work sessions, a sort of "war room," to strategize its opposition campaign.

The work sessions will be held on Aquidneck Island at locations to be determined and are tentatively scheduled for:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 6
  • Wednesday, Oct. 13
  • Thursday, Oct. 7
  • Thursday, Oct. 14

"This effort is intended to assist the municipalities in our states who depend on our bays for their livelihoods and recreation," said Jamestown Town Clerk Cheryl A. Fernstrom in a prepared statement. She continued, "So that we may better craft strategies, both long-term and short-term, in opposing the Weaver's Cove Energy LNG terminal."

At the end of July, a Jamestown council member made an official appeal to Middletown to join them in solidarity at a Town Council meeting.

Most of the municipalities represented at the forum have already drafted a resolution, or sometimes even more than one resolution in Middletown's case—in strong opposition to the proposed LNG off-shore facility. Middletown officials said that "several" resolutions in various forms have since been adopted by the town to fight the LNG project.

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