by Hashim Rahman
Plans to build a natural gas plant in the Long Island Sound came to a halt on April 10, 2008, when New York State announced its decision to block the project. Despite approval by the Federal Regulatory Commission, New York exercised its authority to reject the project under the Coastal Zone Management Act which allows states to make their own ruling on whether such endeavors are consistent with the uses and values of the coastal area at issue.
Governor David A. Patterson stated that allowing the plant, referred to as Broadwater LNG, would "establish a dangerous precedent of industrializing a waterway that generations of people have spent millions of dollars [in] trying to preserve."
Connecticut Governor, M. Jodi Rell, a persistent opponent of the project, hailed the decision as a victory for the environment, and stated that "New York's Department of State has recognized peril that the Broadwater project represents."
The controversial plant was proposed by Broadwater Energy, a consortium
made up of Shell Oil and Transcanada Pipelines. Broadwater Energy's
plant was to be located 10.5 miles from Branford, CT, in the widest
part of the Sound. The facility would have been the first of its kind: the only floating natural gas plant in the U.S., at 1,200 feet
long and having the capacity to hold 8 billion cubic feet of natural
gas. Vessels would periodically dock at the facility, and gas would be
transported by way of a 22-mile undersea pipeline.
Broadwater lobbied for Connecticut and New York's approval by claiming that the plant would reduce the cost of energy in the states, saving the average household about $300 per year. The company also asserted that the plant would adhere to existing environmental standards. Opponents, however, contend that allowance of the plant would "scar" the Long Island Sound and greatly turn back the clock on environmental protection of the area.
Long Island Sound is not only a place of great beauty that has captured the hearts of both residents and travelers, but it is also a unique ecological environment that is highly sensitive to change. For example, the Sound is an estuary, i.e., a marine locale where salt and fresh water mix to create one of the earth's most productive ecosystems. Estuaries function as nurseries, feedings grounds, and breeding grounds for a broad diversity of species. The Long Island Sound acts as this kind of ecosystem for over 120 kinds of fish, countless types of birds, and a variety of sea mammals. Some species, such as the Diamondback Terrapin, rely on the Sound's unique environment to such an extent that their numbers would greatly diminish due to ecological damage in the area.
The last few decades have yielded many notable improvements to the ecological health of the Sound. These improvements have been the result of aggressive recovery efforts through which many groups and individuals have expended substantial time and money.
In the late 1960s, the Long Island Sound, and many other ecological treasures in the U.S., had turned into an expanse of industrial waste. The passing of the Clean Water Act of 1972 led to measurable improvements, but more steadfast and comprehensive efforts were needed in this area to counter the increases in population and industry.
In 1985, Connecticut, New York, and the E.P.A. formed a partnership that created the Long Island Sound Study. The Study conducts rigorous scientific investigations of the Sound and document changes in the ecosystem. The data provides the basis for more knowledgeable decisions concerning the area's protection. Yet the Sound Study represents only one of many admirable efforts. Numerous other groups and individuals, such as Save the Sound and Citizens Campaign for the Environment, have made recovery of the Long Island Sound their unwavering agenda. It is therefore understandable that the Broadwater project was met with such intense opposition.
At present, however, Broadwater Energy is not without recourse. The company has 30 days to appeal to the U.S. Department of Commerce. This decision, which must be rendered in 220 days, can then be appealed in the federal courts of New York or Washington D.C.
Hashim Rahman is an environmental writer and attorney.
photo: Bluff Point, Long Island Sound, iStock photo