EATONTOWN, New Jersey — Opponents of a proposed terminal for liquefied natural gas imports off the New Jersey and New York coasts blasted the plan Wednesday as a dirty, dangerous boondoggle, while supporters hailed it as a source of cheap energy that will lower home heating bills in winter.
Liberty Natural Gas says a recently completed safety and environmental study by the U.S. Coast Guard proves the $600 million project to import natural gas to the New York metropolitan region during peak demand times should go forward. But a wide array of environmentalists says the project called Port Ambrose is dangerous and unnecessary, and could hurt efforts to build a wind energy farm in the same region.
The plan, which calls for ships to tether to a docking station and pump the gas into an underwater pipe to bring it ashore, can be vetoed by the governor of either state. The United States Maritime Administration will make a final decision following this week's public hearings in New York and New Jersey, though the timing of the decision remains unclear.
At the first of two New Jersey public hearings on the plan, environmental groups lined up against it. Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said, "It is now time to put an end to this harmful, dangerous and unnecessary project."
"They call it Liberty Natural Gas, but with this project, it's the opposite," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "Patrick Henry famously said, 'Give me liberty or give me death.' With this proposal, we may get both. If there is a storm or accident, this is a giant bomb off our coast."
"The area that they are proposing to use is important fishing grounds for fluke and squid," added Capt. James Lovgren of the Fisherman's Dock Co-Op in Point Pleasant Beach. "Generations of fishermen have been working these areas for 300 years. Putting an LNG terminal on traditional fishing is taking money out of fishermen's wallets and into the pockets of a greedy gas company."
In addition to concerns over an accident or terrorist attack, environmentalists say, the terminal is not needed because the U.S. already has large supplies of domestically produced natural gas.
But Liberty says the project will help by bringing additional gas supplies to the New York metropolitan area during periods of peak demand, including extreme cold snaps. The company says the facility will be used solely to bring liquefied natural gas into the country and not to export it, as many opponents fear.
Roger Whelan, the company's CEO, said the federal review "confirms that the project is needed, the location is safe, and the impacts to the environment are minimal."
Capt. Steven Werse, an official with the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, said the project will help the maritime trades.
"This project creates good paying, local jobs — the kind of jobs you can raise a family on, the kind of jobs that are worth having," he said. "This project will also reduce energy costs for working families during the cold winter months."
First proposed in 2008, the plan is proposed for federal waters 19 miles off Jones Beach, New York, and 29 miles off Long Branch, New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a previous version of the proposal in 2011, and opponents want him to do so again. The governor, a Republican presidential candidate, has not said whether he will. But in a 2011 speech, Christie said, "My opposition to this will continue for as long as I'm governor."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC