New York City police officers broke up a heated argument Wednesday night during a public hearing on a proposed liquefied natural gas import facility being considered off the South Shore of Long Island.
The spat briefly halted the hearing at the Hilton Garden Inn’s JFK Airport hotel in Queens, where most speakers voiced opposition to the plan during the otherwise civil, lone New York hearing on the proposal’s draft environmental impact statement. No arrests were made but tensions remained high.
“The preferred proposed project location….is literally smack-dab in the middle of the proposed location for the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project,” said Andrea Leshak, legal fellow with the Natural Resources Defense Council, to federal officials at the hearing. “It would be the height of irony—and a damaging energy policy—to privilege the construction of a fossil fuel import facility over a much-needed and overdue renewable offshore wind facility.”
The U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration will decide whether to approve the LNG deepwater import facility license application by Liberty Natural Gas, a company based in Jersey City, for the proposal known as Port Ambrose, which is named for the New York shipping channel. It would be anchored in water more than 100 feet deep about 20 miles south of Long Beach in the Atlantic Ocean.
Critics include environmentalists opposed to fossil fuels, South Shore residents worried about potential accidents impacting their homes and fishing groups that don’t want to see their fishing grounds become off limits. Supporters are mostly unions seeking jobs for their members.
The company behind the proposal said that the port would not take away the proposed wind farm. “There is plenty of room for wind farm development to coexist with Port Ambrose,” Liberty Natural Gas said on their website promoting Port Ambrose.
Critics also remain concerned that—if approved—Port Ambrose would seek regulatory approval to export from the facility, tying the issue into the debate over the controversial natural gas drilling practice known as fracking, which was recently banned in New York.
Roger Whelan, Liberty’s CEO, has told the Press: “There is no truth to the claim.”
But Sean Dixon, a former attorney for Clean Ocean Action, has said that federal law doesn’t always require hearings for deepwater port license amendments, making the switch from import to export easier than the current process.
Federal officials overseeing the hearing—who repeatedly reminded the crowd that they have not already made up their minds on the application—have extended the written public comment period through Feb. 10. The public can submit comments here. If the process continues moving forward as planned, two more public hearings would occur later this year, officials said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have the power to veto the proposal, but have yet to weigh in on the Port Ambrose plan.