Council votes to send letters to oppose LNG
Residents speak out about concerns safety and jobs
Jessica Resnick-Ault, Providence
Journal Staff Writer -
The City Council passed a resolution last night to send letters to state agencies in opposition to the liquefied natural gas facility proposed for the city's North End.
The resolution -- debated heavily at the last council meeting -- passed on a 7-to-2 vote, without any discussion by the council. The debate over the proponent's credibility and the project's safety errupted during a public comment period, when residents, developers, councilors and local environmentalists traded barbs and contradictory facts. In rapid-fire reparte, Councilor Joseph Camara and Weaver's Cove spokesman James A. Grasso argued over the project.
But most residents steered away from the nitty-gritty politics, focusing on safety concerns and jobs.
Coming forward to speak before a full house, local resident John Keppel said he "admired the process" of allowing residents to express their opinions on both sides of the issue. Keppel spoke against the development, arguing it has already affected property values in the North End, and will continue to stunt the city's economic growth. From a safety perspective, Keppel said, it represents a greater hazard than the significantly smaller LNG storage tank on Bay Street. The new facility is 29 times the size of the current storage tank, and will receive the fuel by tanker ships, traveling up the Taunton River.
Activists from local groups, including Green Futures and the newly formed Coalition for Responsible Siting of LNG Facilities, backed up Keppel.
Timothy Bennett, president of Green Futures, argued that safety is a factor: just as standards at public schools have changed since Columbine, attitudes on terrorism have changed since Sept. 11, 2001, Bennet said. "We have to use intelligent decisions and decide what is right and what is wrong." Bennett and others said the project's proponents had been reluctant, or unavailable for meetings. But project developers from Weaver's Cove Energy argued the facts: James A. Grasso, the company's spokesman, said he had taken initiative to stay incontact with community groups and keep them informed. Grasso tried to dispel the idea that Fall River was serving as a project the developers would not want in their own neighborhoods. He argued that Leon Bowdoin, the company's vice president of operations, lives in Somerset, right across from the proposed facility. Some residents heard his message and agreed. Gail Aguiar argued that the city needs the jobs and tax revenue the project will provide, and called the concerns over terrorism "senseless," arguing that local gas stations could similarly explode. Sean Cassidy agreed with her, saying skilled laborers could fill the 200 or so construction positions that will become available. "You'll have plenty of time to reject this project," Grasso said.
Time, Camara countered, is running out. Weaver's Cove asked federal regulators to speed up the process, and give them a swift preliminary determination by March 31. Because of this move, decisions need to be made quickly, Camara said. Grasso said Camara just didn't understand -- "you're not in our business," he said, inciting a chorus of "oooh"s from the audience. The filing, Grasso argued, was "standard" in the industry. He again entreated the council to hold off before opposing the terminal. "I understand you're not in our business," Camara retorted. "But this resolution is standard."
The resolution, put on hold by a motion from Councilor Raymond Hague during the last City Council meeting, was the first item on the agenda, and passed quickly, with only Councilors Alfredo P. Alves and William F. Whitty opposing. The resolution re-affirms the council's September decision to oppose the proposed terminal, and adds that the council will write letters to state agencies involved in the licensing project.
Hague said he had delayed the vote on the resolution because he sought more specific details on who would be contacted, and what the letters would say. In the past two weeks, he said, he had offered the resolution's author, Camara, some ideas for the specifics.