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Date of Issue: June 25, 2008

Port Dolphin to reroute pipeline

Port Dolphin Energy officials pledged to alter their plan for a natural gas pipeline to avoid a rich deposit of sand used for local beach renourishment projects.

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said the community can breathe a “sigh of relief.”

Company officials made the announcement June 19 during a special meeting of the Manatee County Board of Commissioners at Port Manatee.

“We’ve heard the community loud and clear and Port Dolphin will relocate the pipeline route away from the sand source,” company spokesman Harold Costello said.

Costello apologized for any failure to adequately communicate Port Dolphin’s plans to Manatee County officials and others.

“We know we can do a better job of communicating. We will do a better job of communicating,” Costello said. His comments reminded several Island elected officials of comments last fall after the Florida Department of Transportation failed to adequately inform local officials of plans to close the Anna Maria Island Bridge for a lengthy renovation.

Port Dolphin has proposed a $1 billion project that involves constructing a natural gas port in the Gulf of Mexico about 28 miles from Anna Maria Island. A pipeline from the port was proposed to run from the Gulf through Tampa Bay to Port Manatee, and then about four miles inland.

When Manatee County officials learned of the pipeline route earlier this year, they realized the project would jeopardize beach renourishment on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. The pipeline would run so close to an area where underwater sand is collected for beach renourishment that the area would have been off-limits for future beach projects.

The issue, said local officials, threatened the local tourist economy, as county officials estimated that the cost for renourishment would rise by millions of dollars. The deposit off the north end of Anna Maria Island contains the perfect sugar-white sand to shore up the Island’s coast. To find that sand elsewhere would cost more than $50 million over 40 years, according to county estimates.

Fifteen members of Congress, including U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Vern Buchanan, joined local officials in protest.

“They were all over the place apologizing,” Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor John Chappie said of Port Dolphin’s change of direction.

Port Dolphin said it regretted not better informing the county. Discussions between the Norwegian company and the county took place during the past year, but were focused on the pipeline’s impact on land, not underwater.

A new route would take the pipeline north of the sand deposit and generally run parallel to an existing Gulfstream National Gas pipeline, Costello said.

While Port Dolphin changed the pipeline route, questions remain about other concerns with the project, specifically concerns from environmental groups and state and federal agencies regarding the project’s impact on marine wildlife and habitat.

Manatee County Commission Chair Jane von Hahmann said she appreciated Port Dolphin’s planned amendment and financial investment, but said additional discussions to address environmental issues will be needed.