By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Tuesday was a highly anticipated day for both proponents and opponents of several proposed Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) companies that are seeking to build export facilities along the Brownsville Ship Channel of the Port of Brownsville.
Currently, three companies: Texas LNG, Annova LNG and Rio Grande LNG, are exercising their options to lease land at the Port and are in the pre-filing process with the federal government. After months of open houses, community outreach and press conferences hosted by the companies, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held its first public scoping meeting to seek comment from the public.
Residents of the Laguna Madre region and the Rio Grande Valley as a whole have been busy in recent months, too, staging numerous counter-campaigns to protest the proposed developments. A coalition of concerned citizens from McAllen to Brownsville have banded together to form the group Save RGV from LNG. Their aim is to provide information the with what they say could be an environmental catastrophe for the Valley.
At Tuesday’s scoping meeting, which was held at the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center, the two sides stood in stark relief.
Standing across the street outside the building, demonstrators held colorful anti-LNG signs and chanted slogans of protest. Speakers were lined up to offer their perspectives of the proposed projects, including members of the environmental group, the Sierra Club, and the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which maintains a heavy presence as beach advocates on South Padre Island.
Surfrider Foundation chairman Rob Nixon expressed his opinion, saying, “Surfrider is against it. We don’t feel the trade-offs are beneficial.” Nixon also commented on a recent action by the Laguna Madre Water District, which passed a resolution opposing the LNG facilities. “I think that took a lot of courage,” he said.
Inside the building, representatives from the three companies stood in front of information booths filled with artists renderings of their proposed facilities. They stood ready to answer questions from the public.
In one corner, a false wall had been drawn back partway to reveal a ballroom beyond where three stenographers sat at opposite corners of the large room ready to take dictation of comments from residents. A small line of people waited patiently just outside the doorway, some holding typed statements in their hands.
South Padre Island resident LaVina Jo Meyer was one such person who stood to make a comment. She said she was against the construction of the facilities. “(My) chief objection is that LNG plants are wrong in many ways,” she said. “I truly believe that having those plants, it will greatly affect the tourist industry,” she said.
Upon hearing the news that the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce had publicly announced its support for the projects that morning, Meyer continued, “I am disappointed that they did that.”
“(They) will potentially bring us so much pollution,” she said. Moments later, a FERC representative called Meyer’s name and led her to a table to deliver her comments.
The manner in which FERC chose to receive comments had several people in the community asking questions. Previously, similar scoping meetings in other parts of the country incorporated a more town hall type format, where concerned citizens could voice their opinions in front of an audience. In the Valley, however, residents were asked to speak individually to stenographers. The media was not allowed in the room with the stenographers.
FERC Environmental Project Manager Kareem Monib explained that the new format was an attempt to have as much clarity as possible during the commenting period. Monib said making comments in front of a group has led to some commenters not having an opportunity to speak in the past. “This seems to work much better,” he said. He added that reviewing comments delivered individually also allows FERC to perform more in-depth analysis.
Another concern involved questions as to whether or not comments made about the LNG industry in general would be applied to all three individual dockets. Residents had the opportunity to specify if they wanted their comments applied to the FERC dockets of a specific LNG company or not. Monib assured that any comments without such specification would be added into all three dockets. “All of the comments will be posted to the environmental impact statement,” he said.
Monib expressed satisfaction with the public turnout. He estimated that approximately 300 people had attended the meeting two hours before its closing. He said he expected another 100 by the meeting’s 8 p.m. deadline.
“We are still quite early in the process,” Monib said. “There will still be many more months of analysis,” he said.
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