The City Council and State Assemblyman-elect Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) are calling for a public hearing to be held in Long Beach to discuss a company’s plan to build an offshore liquefied natural gas terminal 19 miles southeast of Jones Beach, saying that it is “unreasonable” to hold a meeting in Queens.
The council and Kaminsky are among the groups opposed to the construction of the terminal, Port Ambrose, by Liberty Natural Gas LLC. They are fuming at the U.S. Maritime Administration’s and U.S. Coast Guard’s decisions to release a 1,800-page environmental impact report shortly before the holidays and schedule public meetings in early January.
The report, a draft environmental impact statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act, is available in 25 parts at www.regulations.gov. The Herald will report on its contents online next week.
The council and Kaminsky urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month to veto the Liberty Natural Gas plan, saying that an LNG terminal would negatively impact the barrier island’s ecology and residents’ quality of life, while also causing safety and security concerns.
“This project jeopardizes the health, safety and security of residents of the coastal communities in my district and threatens the marine environment that defines those communities,” Kaminsky said. The council is also calling for a 90-day extension of the public-comment period, and said that a hearing should be held in Long Beach — like one held at the Allegria Hotel last year — rather than in Jamaica, Queens, where a meeting is scheduled next month.
“… We still believe it is unreasonable to expect residents to attend meetings that are severely restricted by both time and location, especially during the winter season, when families are more distracted by the holidays and driving can be more difficult due to snow and ice,” the council wrote in a letter to the Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard. “The residents of Long Beach and the greater New York area have the right to fully consider the impacts of an LNG port and to publicly voice their concerns. The proposed site poses a serious threat to security and public health, as it is located just miles from our densely populated city, not to mention the stress it will put on the surrounding ecosystems, including our beautiful beachfront. The seriousness of the proposed site … warrants an extension for public comment as well as an additional meeting closer to the proposed siting.”
The draft environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 16, and the government scheduled public meetings on Jan. 7, at the Hilton New York JFK Airport, and Jan. 8, in Eatontown, N.J. Tetra Tech Inc., a contractor for Liberty Natural Gas, prepared the report.
“It’s absurd that the LNG facility would be closer to our community than its public hearing,” Kaminsky said. “I call on the USCG and MARAD to hold additional public comment hearings in the communities that this project will impact the most.”
Groups that have raised environmental, security and economic concerns about the proposed LNG terminal include Clean Ocean Action, Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club, the Green Party, the League of Women Voters and the Coalition of Nassau Civic Associations.
“The government’s Scrooge move of releasing [the report] over the holiday clearly shows what they think of the public’s opinion,” Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, wrote in an email. “… It will not allow for meaningful public review.”
Claudia Borecky, chairwoman of the Coalition of Nassau Civic Associations’ Anti-LNG Committee, wrote in an email that South Shore communities “need time to understand how the Port Ambrose facility will impact our environment, the safety of our communities and our energy needs.”
“To hold just one hearing in New Jersey and one in New York City stifles the voice of the Long Island communities,” Borecky added.
Zipf, Borecky and representatives of 29 other organizations sent a joint letter to the Maritime Administration and Coast Guard requesting a 90-day comment period and at least six public meetings — three in New York and three in New Jersey. “Given the scale of the project and the broad scope of potential environmental impacts, there is significant public interest across Long Island, the Jersey shore, and beyond,” the letter stated. “It is unreasonable to expect that citizens from such a large geographic region will be able to attend one of only two public hearings.”
Roddy Bachman, an officer in the Coast Guard’s Deepwater Ports Standards Division, said that the National Environmental Policy Act requires a 45-day public-comment period, and that the government has already extended the period to 60 days — until Feb. 14 — because of the holidays. He said that written comments submitted during this period would carry just as much weight as comments made at public meetings.
The extra 15 days allotted for public comment pales in comparison with the extra year or more federal agencies gave Liberty Natural Gas to fill data gaps in its original permit application. In accordance with the Deepwater Port Act, federal review of Liberty’s application should have concluded on Sept. 19, 2013, but it was not until Sept. 22 of this year that Daron Threet, Liberty’s counsel, wrote in a letter to Bachman that “Liberty believes that all Coast Guard/interagency data requests have been addressed.”
Zipf criticized the disparity. The Coast Guard and Maritime Administration “are giving the public only 60 days for review, and in the midst of the busiest, longest holiday season,” she wrote in her email. “Hardly a fair, due-diligence and transparent process.”
Bachman said that the delay in the review of Liberty’s application was necessary because the agencies “require certain information, and require the analysis of that information to make a proper draft environmental impact statement.”
“The idea of giving them time was to make a better document for public review,” he added.
There are no plans for meetings besides those in Jamaica and Eatontown before the government issues a final environmental impact statement, Bachman said, which he estimated could happen in March.