Broadwater Could Create No-Go Zones

October 19, 2006

A Broadwater Energy delivery platform and pipeline for liquefied natural gas in the middle of Long Island Sound could bring gas-filled tankers within four miles of Montauk Point two or three times a week. The prospective tanker route, along with a miles-wide safety zone off-limits to fishermen and other boaters, was brought to the attention of the East Hampton Town Board last week by Laura Molinari, the town attorney. The impact on fisheries "could be serious," Town Councilman Brad Loewen said.

The potential tanker route had been described in a "waterways suitability report" on the Broadwater storage facility proposed off Wading River in the Sound prepared by the Coast Guard and released at the end of September. It takes no position for or against the proposal.

A chart in the Coast Guard's report on the proposed Broadwater natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound shows the routes tankers might take, one running close to Montauk Point.

Broadwater planners have suggested two routes through Long Island Sound. The preferred route would take the tankers from sea to the Point Judith, R.I., pilot station about five miles southeast of Point Judith. From there, the vessels would enter the Race, the narrow entrance to Long Island Sound between Fisher's and Plum Islands, and then head west. The alternate route would bring the tankers between Block Island and Montauk Point from the Montauk pilot station, 11.5 miles southeast of Montauk, and from there through the Race and westward.

Each tanker heading for the platform in the Sound could carry between 125,000 and 250,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas.

The 1,200-foot-long floating gas facility planned by Broadwater, a partnership between the large oil and gas companies TransCanada and the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, would be 9 miles off Wading River and 11 miles from the Connecticut shore. It would rise 75 to 100 feet above the surface of the water, and would cover 7,000 square feet of Sound bottom.

Twenty-five miles of pipeline would be dug into the floor of the Sound to carry gas from the platform to an existing pipeline running from Northport to Milford, Conn. It would deliver gas to power plants, providing energy to the region's electrical grid.

According to Broadwater, the need for additional electricity in the region is documented in numerous reports by state and federal agencies. The studies suggest that demand for electricity will increase beyond present capacity within the next decade. However, at least one report, by an energy and environmental consulting firm, counters that assessment.

However, because of safety and security concerns, the vessels would be subject to two buffer zones, a 500-yard security zone to protect a tanker from attack, and a safety zone of two nautical miles (4,000 yards ahead, one nautical mile astern, and 750 yards to either side to protect other vessels in case of a spill. Airplanes would have to keep their distance as well.

Should the Montauk channel route be chosen, none of three hazard zones, distances from a ship that are considered dangerous or damaging in case of a "spill," extend to land in East Hampton Town.

The Coast Guard report finds the route between Block Island and Montauk Point relatively trouble free in terms of navigational impediments, water depth, as well as hazard and security zones. However, it notes that, "this area experiences high traffic density and multiple uses. Montauk Channel is commonly used by ocean-going vessels with drafts of less than 38 feet, commercial fishing, and naval vessels including submarines." The report emphasizes the channel's seasonal use for sportfishing.

Capt. Bill Ricca, former president of the Montauk Boatmen's and Captains Association, said yesterday that he had not heard of the proposed route. He said the area in question was already traversed by submarines and other large ships and tugs. "The ships themselves are not a problem, but the distance, and if they are escorted by the Coast Guard there would be no bluffing. If they did it at night, there would be nobody there," Captain Ricca said.

The East Hampton Town Board, alerted to the information in the Coast Guard report by Councilman Loewen, who reviewed the report with Bill Taylor, East Hampton Town's waterways management supervisor who is a former tugboat operator, said that boats operating within the limits of a gas tanker's safety zone would be vaporized should a spark ignite escaped vapor.

Those more than a mile away from the carrier could be burned. In a third zone stretching 4.3 miles across and encompassing the boat's path, the report states that some damage would be expected should an accident occur.

"There is a possibility that these zones may cross into the boundaries of East Hampton," Mr. Loewen said. "And we have no idea what our security responsibilities are if that happens."

If the Broadwater plan goes forward, said Ed Michels, the town's senior harbormaster, "I think the town is going to have to take an active role in the security."

Security for incoming gas vessels is expected to be a joint effort by federal, state, and local authorities, he said. "And who's closer to the vessel's track line than the Montauk Coast Guard, and us?" he asked.

The Coast Guard report states that the job of maintaining security of both the Broadwater facility and the tankers was a "law enforcement function," with the Coast Guard itself overseeing prearrival screening of the vessels and crews, providing escort for the tankers, and boarding them on occasion.

When the Broadwater plan first came to light in late 2004, it raised fears of environmental degradation, accidents, and terrorism, as well as the industrialization of Long Island Sound and loss of public access for fishing and recreation. Opposition has been widespread, from Congressman Charles Schumer to Representative Timothy Bishop, State Senator Kenneth J. LaValle to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and the entire Suffolk County Legislature, which is seeking to use an 1800s-era law to claim regulatory power.

Within the next month or so, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will make the final regulatory decision on Broadwater, is expected to issue its draft environmental impact statement. Public hearings will be held after that.

Regardless of federal approval, projects in New York waters must comply with New York State's coastal management plan. A bill co-sponsored by Mr. Thiele, which would require a state permit for any industrial use in New York waterways, has passed the Assembly and is pending in the Senate.

Earlier this year, the East Hampton Town Board joined other Long Island and New York officials and municipalities in passing a resolution expressing concern.

East Hampton was recently singled out by Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an activist against Broadwater, however, as not having come out in opposition. Town officials sought but could not find the April, 2005, resolution, which was filed under the misspelled "Boardwater."

In light of the new information about tankers near East Hampton's shores, the board on Tuesday discussed drafting a second resolution stating its opposition to Broadwater more strongly.