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U.S. Navy Tries to Torpedo Fall River LNG Project; Says It Would Interfere With Testing

The U.S. Navy, having suddenly discovered that LNG cargoes might be traversing their torpedo testing grounds, last week joined the growing chorus of parties asking FERC to reconsider its decision last month to approve the controversial Weaver's Cove LNG import terminal project in Fall River, MA.

The Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division (NUWC) in Newport, RI, which borders on Narragansett Bay near where LNG tankers would travel to get to Fall River, contends the tanker traffic would "significantly and adversely impact in-water testing" of multi-million dollar submarines, torpedoes and sonar systems.

The sponsors of Weaver's Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) project immediately called on FERC to reject "outright" the U.S. Navy's request for late intervention in the controversial LNG terminal case [CP04-36].

The Navy asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow it to intervene and reopen the evidentiary record in the case to receive further evidence, noting that the agency's environmental review and July 15 order approving the terminal project made "no substantive mention of the Navy's presence or activities in Narragansett Bay, nor the potential impact of the proposal on the Navy."

The Navy said it didn't learn of the Weaver's Cove LNG project and the "potential impact to its mission" until after FERC approved the project last month (see NGI, July 4).

The claim by the NUWC in Newport "to have acquired only belated knowledge of the 'status' of the Weaver's Cove project is profoundly disingenuous," Weaver's Cove told FERC. "Tellingly, the NUWC does not claim to have been unaware of the Weaver's Cove project, just its status."

There is no way that the Navy could have been blind to the LNG project in light of the intensive media attention that it has attracted, and the length of time in processing the Weaver's Cove application at FERC, Weaver's Cove said. The Navy "has simply not shown any cause, let alone good cause, for its tardiness" in seeking to intervene in the case.

The issue of the Navy's testing activities in the lower Narragansett Bay should not be before the Commission, but rather, if necessary, should be addressed by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to Weaver's Cove.

It argued that "LNG tankers transiting to the Weaver's Cove terminal will be subject to exactly the same limitations as any other maritime traffic already transiting through the NUWC's restricted area." Weaver's Cove further noted that the "NUWC has failed to show why LNG vessels should be treated differently."

The Navy is joined by a number of state and federal officials who are opposed to siting the LNG project in Fall River and/or have sought rehearing of the Commission decision based on safety/security concerns, including Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the attorneys general from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert, and Congressmen James McGovern and Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

McGovern and Frank last Wednesday appealed to President Bush to support the Navy's plea to reopen the controversial Weaver's Cove case on the grounds that tanker traffic would interfere with the Navy's testing of warfare systems.

"We...urge you to join in requesting that FERC reopen this procedure so that the Navy's objections can then be fully aired because we believe this will lead to a reconsideration and reversal of FERC's decision" approving the proposed terminal facility, the two Democrats, whose districts include parts of Fall River, wrote in a letter to the president.

"We were struck to learn that the Navy had not been informed of this [LNG] proposal, which it reports will have a significant negative effect on the important [underwater testing] functions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division in Newport," the lawmakers said.

The opponents could very well have a fighting chance this time due to the arguments of the Navy and language that was inserted by McGovern in the recently enacted Transportation Equity Act erecting a major obstacle to the LNG project. The new law bars the demolition of the Brightman Street Bridge, connecting Fall River and Somerset, MA, to make way for LNG cargo traffic. The Weaver's Cove sponsors, Amerada Hess and Poten Partners, were counting on the bridge being destroyed in order for their project to proceed (see NGI, Aug. 15).

Gov. Romney informed FERC recently that the old bridge would not be destroyed based on the new transportation law. "Inasmuch as the approval of the Weaver's Cove proposal is predicated on the removal of the existing Brightman Street Bridge, I wish to inform you of the Commonwealth's intention to preserve the existing bridge for pedestrian, bicycle and emergency access."

The $250 million Weaver's Cove LNG project, if built, would provide 800 MMcf/d of peak sendout capacity and 200,000 metric tons of LNG storage in New England.

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