Developer of Fall River LNG terminal faces setback
Bill in Congress seeks to protect lower part of river
WASHINGTON - Developers of a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Southeastern Massachusetts are facing yet another hurdle: legislation in Congress to extend environmental protection to the lower Taunton River, where the facility would be built.
The Massachusetts congressional delegation wants that river segment to be included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a 1968 law aimed at preserving designated rivers. Lawmakers, prodded by community and environmental groups, have been seeking the designation since 2002.
A recent National Park Service draft report warned that the LNG project, called the Weaver's Cove Energy project, "could be in conflict" with a wild and scenic designation for the lower river. Dredging for the project could harm fishing resources, the study said.
James Grasso, a spokesman for Weaver's Cove Energy, said the push in Congress was a backdoor means of blocking the terminal.
The riverbank where Weaver's Cove wants to build in Fall River is hardly wild and scenic, Grasso said. "It's a heavily industrialized waterfront."
"Designating the lower Taunton River as wild and scenic is a veiled effort to block the proposed Weaver's Cove Energy facility," Grasso said. "It's an abuse of the act."
Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, scoffed at the allegation.
"Weaver's Cove was not on our minds when we started this," he said. "It's a beneficial, unintended consequence. The only reason it's going to help kill the project is that it shows how bad the project is."
The proposal by Weaver's Cove and Hess LNG for a terminal has won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the project is strongly opposed by Massachusetts and Rhode Island officials who have expressed concern that the LNG terminal could endanger residents in the densely populated area. A terrorist strike or accident could be devastating, they said.
Project foes also contend there will be environmental risks and disruptions as a result of the intense security required concerning tankers traveling to the terminal through Narragansett Bay.
Grasso said the concerns are exaggerated.
The Coast Guard in May dealt a blow to developers by citing navigational safety, security, and environmental concerns about the project in a "preliminary assessment" letter. Rhode Island officials in August rejected plans by Weaver's Cove to dredge Mount Hope Bay so tanker ships could reach the terminal.
The latest twist centers on legislation by some Democratic members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation - Frank, Representative James P. McGovern, and Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry - that would designate as "Wild and Scenic" the Taunton River between Bridgewater and Fall River. The rest of the river has been covered by such protections since 2000.
Grasso said the Northeast needs Weaver's Cove to meet its rising energy needs, he said.