By Pattie Pacella
Neighb News Correspondent
Once again, there were close to 150 neighboring residents, elected officials and representatives of local officials on hand for a public meeting held Wednesday night with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) representatives regarding the proposed Access North East Project.
The proposal will expand the existing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility on Peckham Road in Acushnet. The proposed expansion includes two compressors, and two tanks that will be 170 feet high and hold 3.4 Bcf (billion cubic feet) of Liquefied Natural Gas each. For comparison, the rainbow tank on the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester is 140 feet high and holds 1.2 Bcf of LNG.
John Paconom introduced himself as a FERC environmental biologist, for 15 years, and is the project manager for the Environmental review of the proposed project.
Mr. Paconom gave a quick review of the five-member commission of FERC that is appointed by the President. He stated that the project was in the “pre-filing” process, and if there is an application filed to move on with the project, it will not be filed until November. He said that the project is in the “scoping” period, when FERC hears comments and concerns from the public. He noted they have received a couple hundred comments to date.
Mr. Paconom stated that the pre-filing process began November 17, 2015 and that as of the day of the meeting, 5/18, there had been no formal application filed. He stated that the draft resource reports 1-10 were submitted in December 2015 and that on April 29, 2016, FERC issued a notice of intent for an Environmental Draft Impact Statement, which began the scoping period.
Mr. Paconom explained he was aware there was a filing from the Attorney General as well as town officials to extend the comment period beyond May 30. He said that FERC would hear public comment after that deadline, as well into the future of the project.
Mr. Paconom told speakers they would be limited to three minutes.
“I recognize the choices you have all made to be here tonight and ask that you just be mindful of the other speakers and the time limit,” said Mr. Paconom. “If you need additional time, I will allow you to finish your thoughts.”
He added that approximately 35 people signed up to speak.
Garry Rawcliffe, the Chairperson of the Acushnet Selectboard, spoke first.
“I’ll just start by saying my speech is close to ten minutes long,” he said.
He asked FERC to support the Selectboard’s request for a risk assessment from LNG, spoke of property values, and asked that local conservation commission officials be kept in the loop of conservation issues. Lastly, he explained the need to request the 45-day extension for public comment.
A representative was present on behalf of Congressman William Keating who read a letter expressing that Rep. Keating wanted FERC to extend the comment period.
Also present from the Selectboard was Kevin Gaspar who said he wanted to “keep things as simple as possible.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Gaspar didn’t get too much further in his comments before the microphone system had a few technical difficulties. With the audience in an uproar that “they” need to fix the PA system, Mr. Paconom asked for a brief two minute break. A town resident was able to correct the problem and within five minutes the session was back.
Mr. Gaspar simply stated there was a lot of concern and it should be reviewed further.
Selectboard member Mike Cioper was also present, stating he had concerns about the size of the tanks, and he had safety concerns.
Neil Mello, the Chief of Staff for New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell, was also on hand to read a letter from the mayor.
The letter stated that there are 2700 New Bedford residents residing within one mile of the facility. He wrote that New Bedford is going to take advantage of doing its own research on the proposed project and Mayor Mitchell looks forward to working with FERC to get through the concerns and comments brought forward.
Acushnet resident Leslie Dakin went on the record saying that he “adamantly opposes the project.”
He said that if he went to the local conservation commission board to clear cut 145 acres of his property, they would probably run him out of town; which brought about a thunderous applause from residents.
Edward Slinko of the Sierra Club of Massachusetts was present with “a bunch of questions,” he said.
“What about noise pollution? Who are the customers for the capacity? What is the market for excess capacity? What will be the result in pressure in the pipeline? Are there any plans to export gas,” were just a few of his questions.
President of the Coalition for responsible siting of LNG facilities, Joe Carvalho, was present to press for a “no action” to the North East Access pipeline project.
During a break, Mr. Carvalho told the Neighb News that his coalition defeated an LNG project proposed for Fall River.
After the break, Freetown resident Wendy Graca prefaced her comments with: “I heard you say that comments would be considered after the deadline, however I don’t have much faith in that; then why would’ve there been a deadline to begin with.”
Chiropractor Michael Boucher, also an Acushnet Finance Committee member said he had numerous concerns.
“Also, as a healthcare provider, I am concerned about the compression stations,” said Dr. Boucher. “As a Finance Committee member in town, I don’t think the financial gain is worth the risk.”
Many more residents of Acushnet as well as neighboring towns expressed their concerns of safety, of justifying the need, and for the extensive pipeline that was going to go through residents’ properties.
Residents noted that the facility is in a residential area and agreed with the sentiment of resident Jerry Lawrence.
“My home, like many, is my safe haven,” said Mr. Lawrence, who was visibly upset as he made his statement.
Also visibly upset, Jane Macomber said there were many reasons she was opposed to the project.
“The most important being salamanders, turtles and people that live near where the pipeline is being proposed,” Ms. Macomber said.
“The residents whose front lawns are going to be enhanced with this pipeline are living in fear,” she said with emotion. “Please don’t let this go through. I beg you.”
Earlier in the day at the Acushnet Town Hall meeting room, FERC gave a brief presentation for a question and answer period with the LNG Citizens Advisory Committee. At that meeting, chairperson and Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher asked if people at home should expect a letter from FERC in response to their comments or concerns.
“No,” said Mr. Pacanom. “We just don’t have the resources to send a letter back to all of the one hundred thus far letters we have received.”
There was a brief discussion on alternative sights, and Mr. Paconom stated there were thirty-plus sites under consideration. He said they were in Freetown and along the 495 corridor.
Chief Gallagher had asked about the deadline for comments, explaining that it wasn’t 30 days, but 25 days.
“Are you prepared to go on record to extend to the 45 day request or address that tonight,” Chief Gallagher asked.
Mr. Paconom said that he appreciated all the comments and concerns and said they would take any comments after the deadline date.
Chief Gallagher asked about the non binding referendum that the Selectboard wanted to put on the April 2017 ballot regarding the proposed project.
“Can we be assured the information would be given to the five commissioners after that ballot question,” he asked.
“Yes,” said Mr. Paconom.
He then explained the timeline. If the project plans to file an application, that would be in November 2016. Then FERC would need four to six months to prepare the draft environmental impact statement; and then another four to six months for the final environmental impact statement, which brings the process to the fall of 2017. He said the non binding referendum vote would fit in that time frame.
LNG Committee member Bob Pelletier asked how much weight the non referendum vote would have with the commission.
Mr. Paconom said he was not sure, as he was not on the commission, but he said he did know they will review the information; he just was not able to give a percentage.
Mr. Paconom did say there would be another public hearing afterthe draft environmental impact statement is rolled out.
To learn more about the project visit www.AccessNortheastEnergy. com. To learn more about the FERC process and to comment, visit FERC’s website using the elibrary link at www. ferc.gov and docket #PF16-1-000.
Click to download the 5/26/16 issue in its entirety: 05-26-16 SpanishShip