Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management (DEM) delivered more bad news to Weaver's Cove Energy LLC last week when it denied the company's request for a permit and water quality certificate to dredge approximately 230,000 cubic yards of the navigation channel in Mount Hope Bay.

Dredging is needed to clear the way for tankers to reach the company's proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Fall River, MA.

The Weaver's Cove project, which FERC approved in mid-2005, has been the target of intense opposition by local, state and federal officials. If built, it would provide 800 MMcf/d of peak sendout capacity, 400 MMcf/d of baseload supply and 200,000 metric tons of LNG storage. In June the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended review of the project following an unfavorable decision by the U.S. Coast Guard in May that the agency said "casts serious doubt as to the feasibility of the project" (see NGI, June 11; May 21).

According to DEM, the waters of Mount Hope Bay in Rhode Island and Massachusetts bear the states' highest water quality classifications that provide high-quality fish habitat and a resource for fishing. The waters are designated for shellfish harvesting for direct human consumption, primary and secondary contact recreational activities, and fish and wildlife habitat. Mount Hope Bay and the Lower Taunton River are consider a valuable natural resource, supporting important habitat for quahogs, oysters and finfish such as winter flounder.

DEM issued the denial based on Weaver's Cove's failure to provide a valid application with a definitive project proposal, and its failure to demonstrate that the proposed activities would not violate surface water quality and anti-degradation standards pursuant to Rhode Island water quality regulations.

Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri was all but elated at the permit's denial.

"I have long opposed Weaver's Cove's efforts to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River," he said last week. "Today's decision by the state's top environmental officials to deny the company's application for a dredging permit is another important step in our efforts to block this potentially dangerous project. While I understand that Rhode Island must find new sources of affordable energy, bringing liquefied natural gas up Narragansett Bay is not the answer. In short, a marine LNG terminal poses too many environmental and security threats to the bay and to nearby residents."

The Weaver's Cove application at DEM was undone by the project's reconfiguration to use smaller LNG tankers making more frequent deliveries in order to get around the Brightman Street Bridge over the Taunton River. The bridge was scheduled to be removed upon completion of a new Brightman Street bridge; however, language inserted in a transportation spending bill, later signed by President Bush, blocked demolition of the bridge (see NGI, Feb. 20, 2006). Weaver's Cove failed to provide information requested and essential to adequately quantify elevated turbidity levels during dredging operations in Rhode Island, DEM said. It also failed to provide a proposed mixing zone in Rhode Island waters and a dredging water quality monitoring plan for dredging in Rhode Island waters, including procedures to follow in the event water quality impacts are observed.

DEM said it conducted an extensive public review process on the Weaver's Cove application. Two public hearings were held in November in Bristol and Tiverton, along with a public comment period that ended on Dec. 8.

Months after the public comment period closed, Weaver's Cove Energy LLC continued to submit additional information to DEM, which included notification of a change in the scope of the project through the use of smaller LNG tankers. This change would have more than doubled the number of LNG vessel transits through Narragansett Bay and Mount Hope Bay, DEM said.

The applicant initially proposed the use of LNG ships with cargo capacities of up to 145,000 cubic meters, resulting in approximately 52 to 73 deliveries of LNG per year. In the applicant's subsequent submissions, it was reported that the size of the proposed LNG ship would be reduced to have a capacity of 55,000 cubic meters, resulting in approximately 240 to 260 round-trips per year. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a letter to Weaver's Cove on May 9 advising that the waterway may not be suitable for the type and frequency of LNG marine traffic contained in its smaller tanker proposal.

Despite Weaver's Cove continued submission of information to DEM, on June 27 Weaver's Cove filed a petition for review of inaction of DEM in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asserting that DEM had failed to review and either approve or deny within one year of its application.

In addition to denying the Weaver's Cove application on the basis that it was incomplete and insufficient, DEM concluded that the scope of the Weaver's Cove project had substantially changed and that Weaver's Cove had failed to provide adequate information to enable DEM to determine the exact nature of its project or how the project is viable in light of the United State's Coast Guard's May 9 letter effectively denying the project.

The Weaver's Cove backers can count on continued opposition from Rhode Island, the state's governor said. "In the meantime, I will also continue working to implement my long-term energy agenda, which calls for using wind and water power to generate an ever larger amount of Rhode Island's electricity needs," he said.

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