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Date of Issue: June 04, 2008

Pipeline proposal draws critics

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, last week objected to a proposed port and natural gas pipeline in the vicinity of Anna Maria Island, expressing concerns for the environment and security.

Two state agencies, a fishery management council, a private firm and two seasonal Anna Maria residents also were among the last to file formal comments with the U.S. Coast Guard, which set a deadline for June 2 for comment on the assessment of the environmental impact of the Port Dolphin Energy project.

The project,  proposed last March, would involve a 36-inch gas line that would run from about 28 miles west of Anna Maria Island in 100 feet of water to Tampa Bay, past Egmont Key and submerged Passage Key.

The $1 billion project calls for a deepwater port, 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 existing Gulfstream Natural Gas System.

In May, Manatee County commissioners and county conservation lands management director Charlie Hunsicker urged Port Dolphin to reconsider the pipeline’s route, which would pass by quality sand needed for future beach renourishment projects on the Island and on Longboat Key. The proximity of the pipeline would make the sand off-limits, forcing the government to look elsewhere for sand — and probably spend more money.

Other parties also have raised concerns about the project, including the environmental group ManaSota-88, which questioned whether Port Dolphin selected the best site for a pipeline.

Last week, facing the June 2 deadline for public comment on a draft environmental impact assessment prepared for the U.S. Coast Guard, Castor submitted a letter of concern and other materials. Her district includes portions of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties, but not AMI, which is represented by Republican Vern Buchanan.

“The Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay and the Manatee County coastal areas are environmentally invaluable and economically vital areas of our community,” Castor stated. “I am concerned that Port Dolphin may not adequately take into account the community, environmental and security concerns.”

She continued, “From my cursory review, the dangers of liquefied natural gas include a sobering list of potential environmental impacts. The regasification process of liquid natural gas can impact water temperatures in the vicinity of the terminal, causing adverse impacts for sensitive fish and sea turtle populations.”

Regarding security, the representative said, “A natural gas spill on water would result in a widening pool of liquefied gas spreading across the water. If ignited, the danger and environmental impacts would be catastrophic. Of particular concern is the volatile nature of natural gas, which would evaporate and cause flammable vapor clouds.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also weighed in on Port Dolphin’s plan.

The environmental impact statement indicates the project poses “small but potentially significant risks.”

But the DEP, in a letter signed by coastal program administrator Lynn Griffin, said, “Several issues are not adequately addressed.”

Two DEP concerns include “impacts to fishing activities and loss of fishing grounds” and “incident management.”

Griffin wrote, “Information regarding incident management should include discussions on the extent that state and local emergency management personnel will be needed to respond to an incident, incident response training needs for such personnel and who will bear the responsibility to provide such training. This information has not yet been provided.”

An opinion from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services raised concerns about the pipeline’s impact on shellfish populations and recommended installation take place between November and February to minimize interference with oyster spawning.

The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, according to its letter, is concerned with “essential fish habitat and associated fishery resources.… The project area has been designated as EFH for various life stages of red drum, gray snapper, stone crab, spiny lobster, pink shrimp, coral, red grouper, gag, black grouper, yellowfin grouper, vermilion snapper, lane snapper, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and cobia.”

Part-time Anna Maria residents Kim and Brian Lockhart also submitted a letter objecting to the Port Dolphin proposal. They alleged that the company was trying to “sneak” by the public.

However, a company representative pointed out that Port Dolphin filed a public application in March 2007, requesting federal permission and that the application has been under public scrutiny since that time.

The Lockharts, who permanently reside in Cincinnati, also stated, “What Anna Maria Island is famous for are … white, sandy beaches without possible pollution problems from a pipeline spill. Let us keep it this way by telling Port Dolphin ‘no,’ loud and clear.

“The environmental disruption and potential problems that this Port Dolphin pipeline would cause are irreparable.… We need to protect our valuable, natural resources.”

Another submission to the Coast Guard was filed by Gerald Engdahl of Wheaton Process Systems in Wheaton, Ill., who stated a need for a gas pipeline in the area, but said his firm does “not support the impact the proposed Port Dolphin terminal vaporizer would have on the environment. The best available technology for vaporizing LNG is not presented in this application.”

Engdahl said the proposal calls for the use of fired burners to vaporize the liquid natural gas and that the “huge burners emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.… A fish-friendly seawater heat-source vaporizer with environmental benefits is available.”

Using an alternative seawater heat source to vaporize the liquid natural gas would result in “cooler seawater, thereby reducing global warming.… The cooler seawater from vaporization carries more oxygen for increased oxygen supplies for fish species and generally more food for marine life,” Engdahl wrote.