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Date of Issue: May 28, 2008

County concerned over planned gas pipeline

A map of the proposed Port Dolphin pipeline under review by the federal government. Last December the company amended its route for the pipeline to avoid an aquatic preserve at Terra Ceia. Islander Image: Courtesy Port Dolphin Energy

Manatee County officials shared concerns May 20 that a proposed natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico leading into Tampa Bay threatens efforts to pipe sand for renourishing local beaches.

Other parties continued to raise concerns that the pipeline, proposed by Port Dolphin Energy, would have negative impacts on the environment — in the water and on nearby shores.

Port Dolphin Energy, seeking to start its commercial operation in Tampa Bay by 2011, has proposed building a 36-inch gas line that would run from about 28 miles west of Anna Maria Island in 100 feet of water into Tampa Bay, past Egmont Key and submerged Passage Key.

The $1 billion project calls for a deepwater port — two mooring buoys 3.1 miles apart that would apparently not be visible from the Island — where liquid natural gas from tankers would be vaporized and fed through a 42-mile Tampa Bay pipeline that makes landfall at Port Manatee, then continues four miles to connect with the Gulfstream Natural Gas System. When not connected to a tanker, the buoys would be submerged 60-70 feet.

Port Dolphin, a subsidiary of an Oslo, Norway, company, proposed the pipeline in an application to the federal government in March 2007. The application has since been under review by a series of federal agencies, in cooperation with Florida departments.

In April, the U.S. Coast Guard released a draft environmental impact statement finding the project posed “small but potentially significant risks.”

The USCG invited comment from government agencies, organizations and individuals. The comment period continues through June 2, with people invited to make their statements on the Internet at with the code USCG-2007-28532, or by faxing 202-493-2251.

A number of people raised concerns regarding the plan during a public hearing at the county civic center in Palmetto May 6.

At a county commission meeting May 20, Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county’s conservation lands management department, said the pipeline would adversely impact beach renourishment.

Also, Hunsicker has sent a letter to the city of Anna Maria asking that a May 30 meeting on a possible 2012 beach renourishment project in the city be postponed until the fall.

In the letter, Hunsicker encouraged the city to take notice of the Port Dolphin proposal and consider supporting the county “in raising concerns about the proposal and its adverse effect upon a continuing and economically viable beach renourishment project for Anna Maria Island.”

Hunsicker said the pipeline would pass close to the targeted area of quality sand for renourishing beaches. If the pipeline is approved as proposed, sand for renourishment would have to be found farther from shore — a more costly exercise for possibly lesser quality sand.

“We need to oppose it to the hilt,” Manatee County Commissioner Amy Stein said of the project as proposed.

A report by Coastal Planning and Engineering filed with the Coast Guard addresses issues for the county, which handles beach renourishment for the AMI communities, as well as the town of Longboat Key, which also conducts beach renourishment projects. The report states, “Loss of beach compatible sand due to the impact of the proposed Port Dolphin pipeline route through beach quality sand resources will irreparably harm beach preservation and maintenance efforts in Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as other neighboring communities.”

Coastal Planning geologist Beau Suthard said an ebb shoal off the northwestern tip of Anna Maria Island historically has been the best sand source for building up the area’s beaches and “this ebb shoal is bisected by the current proposed pipeline route.”

Also, ManaSota-88, an environmental group, has taken issue with the proposal.

“I am going to assume that some of this that will be impacted is going to be essential fish habitat and hard bottom. And hard bottom is one of the most difficult wetland categories to mitigate,” said ManaSota-88 executive director Glenn Compton.

The concerns followed the release of the impact statement, which cited numerous possible problems:

  • Collisions and noise can disturb whales.
  • Lighting from construction of the offshore port could impact sea turtles, as could collisions, noise, entanglement and debris.
  • Wood storks, terns and piping plovers live in the vicinity of the proposed project area.
  • An increase in noise, traffic, debris and lighting might have impacts on Everglades National Park and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Liquid natural gas might be released in an accidental collision, mechanical failure, fire, severe storm, explosion or aviation accident.
  • Emissions during operation of the port and pipeline might negatively impact air quality and would generate greenhouse gasses.
  • Increases in boat traffic could lead to increases in collisions with manatees.

Compton questioned whether an alternative-site study was completed or whether any analysis showed the Tampa Bay area to be the best location for such a project.

Compton also said Project Dolphin should explain how it would mitigate temporary and long-term impacts.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the proposal out of concerns for the project’s impact on seagrasses and wetlands.

One solution offered by county officials is to build the pipeline in an existing pipeline corridor and another proposal would be to connect off-shire with the existing Gulfstream pipeline.