FERC comments debate LNG location, impact

Comments from Alaska state agencies, citizens, national agencies and outside organizations zoomed in on the Alaska LNG Project’s details, including the Nikiski location and the project’s effect on the environment.

More than 60 comments were filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority by the deadline of Dec. 4. The agency asked for input on what the public wanted to see included in the Environmental Impact Statement, a document estimated to take several years to complete. The EIS must be complete before the project receives the final go-ahead.

Several local organizations, including the Nikiski Community Council, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and a citizen group called Concerned Citizens of Nikiski, weighed in to ask for studies on traffic, water quality and impact on residents’ quality of life.

“While operations at the LNG plant will affect the area’s traffic, economy, population and demands for public and private services long term, it is the thousands of workers during construction, along with the accompanying traffic and demands for services that are of more concern to the borough and its residents because of the concentrated impact,” borough mayor Mike Navarre wrote in the comments.

The Kenai Soil & Water Conservation District, the local stewardship office for the state Division of Forestry, raised concerns about the soil beneath the proposed site. Barrels of contaminants are known to have been buried at the site, and the organization asked for the EIS to include a remediation plan if the soil is contaminated. The organization also asked for all trees removed during construction to be put to use wherever and whenever possible.

Several comments addressed fishing issues as well. The Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board requested that the EIS include evaluations of additional fishing pressure on the river with more workers moving into the peninsula for several years.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, a commercial fishing organization, asked for a safety plan to address how LNG carriers in Cook Inlet would affect drift gillnetters fishing for salmon. The organization expressed concern about LNG carriers crossing the trailing paths of drifters’ nets, which can trail up to 1,200 feet behind the boat if there is more than one permit holder on board.

The organization asked that the carriers communicate their schedules and be flexible to avoid conflict with the drifters. Salmon do not follow fixed paths, so the drifters need to be able to go where the fish are, UCIDA President David Martin wrote in the comments.

“The goal of this comprehensive plan is to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the commercial salmon drift gillnet fleet, commercial fishing industry and the LNG Carriers in a practical, efficient and cooperative manner that allows all entities to engage in their activities,” Martin wrote.

Outside the peninsula, some again raised the question of whether Nikiski is the best location for the facility. The City of Valdez submitted comments requesting that the EIS also evaluate a route of the pipeline that ends in Valdez. Mayor Larry Weaver wrote in the comments that the Valdez route is safer for a marine terminal because there is less ice in Prince William Sound, that it will bring gas to Fairbanks and will avoid additional impacts on wilderness.

“FERC has already considered a route substantially similar to the Nikiski Route and found the Valdez Route to be the preferred alternative for a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Southcentral Alaska,” Weaver wrote. “Moreover, the substantial environmental, health and safety, and socioeconomic advantages of the Valdez Route further support its thorough consideration.”

However, the Resource Development Council, an oil and gas industry group, wrote in its comments that it supports the Nikiski route. The organization cited “special interests” behind the proposal to move the LNG facility to Valdez. Several environmental organizations have asserted that the pipeline could impact endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales. The Resource Development Council refuted this, saying there have been other pipelines in Cook Inlet that have had little effect on beluga whales, blaming the decline instead on excessive subsistence hunting.

“RDC urges FERC to fully consider the economic and other benefits of the Alaska LNG project in the Environmental Impact Statement,” Resource Development Council Deputy Director Carl Portman wrote in the comments.

Larry Persily, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s special assistant on oil and gas projects, said in a presentation to the borough assembly Dec. 8 that the next step for the project is to submit resource reports. The state legislature approved another $230 million for work in 2016.

“If they stay on schedule, the final reports and application will be submitted by the fourth quarter of 2016,” Persily said. “That will start the final EIS process.”

Once the draft Environmental Impact Statement is released, the public will be able to comment on it.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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