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Environmentalists battle LNG terminal plan

MET lecturer says newly reborn island is threatened

Swimmers dive from rocks on Outer Brewster Island at dusk. Photo by Scott Johnson

Outer Brewster Island, one of several islands at the entrance of Boston Harbor, is being eyed as a site for the state’s second liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. Since September, when Virginia-based AES Battery Rock, LLC, announced its intention to buy or lease the island and convert it into an LNG facility and storage depot, environmental activists have been vocal in their opposition. One of the most vocal is Bruce Berman, a Metropolitan College instructor and the communications director for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a public-interest organization pledged to protect and restore Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay.

Among the MET classes Berman teaches is Politics, Public Relations, and Public Policy: The Boston Harbor Cleanup. He also teaches a course on the harbor’s flora and fauna. Berman points out that since 1986, when the $4.5 billion cleanup of Boston Harbor began, bacteria counts in the harbor have decreased by more than two thirds, prompting Boston residents and tourists to visit the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area in droves — and sparking a return of wildlife, including seals and porpoises, to a harbor that was once the most polluted in the nation.

Berman talked with BU Today about the AES plan, arguing that none of the 34 islands in the sanctuary is suitable for an LNG terminal base. On March 8 there will be a legislative hearing at the Massachusetts State House on House Bill 4500, which proposes to lease Outer Brewster Island to AES.

BU Today: What is the scope of this project, and why should people in the Boston area be concerned about siting this facility on one of the outermost Harbor Islands?

Bruce Berman: AES proposes to crush the island and replace it with what it admits will be the largest LNG terminal and depot in the country. It would bring 900-foot-long, 150-foot-tall tankers into a shallow bay that is just a few thousand feet across, destroying critical habitat for sea and shore birds and for the harbor park’s only colony of seals.

There has been some publicity about the possibility of a terrorist attack on one of these ships, creating an explosion that would devastate downtown Boston. Given that there is also opposition to continuing to ship LNG tankers past the Boston waterfront to the Distrigas facility in Everett, isn’t an LNG facility on Outer Brewster Island a safer alternative than shipping LNG through the harbor?

This project is in addition to, and not in place of, the facility in Everett, which is kind of silly, when you think it through. The pipe it would feed is not even connected to the Mystic Station power plant, so it won’t reduce tanker traffic here or have any effect whatsoever on any of the 17 other plans for terminals in the Northeast United States and Canada. It’s hard to see how yet another LNG depot in the Boston area would reduce our risk.

Have you been accused of having a “not in my back yard” attitude, especially because it is being argued that an alternative energy source — like the proposed Cape Cod wind farm — is necessary and worth the minor eyesore?

Save the Harbor supports alternative energy and renewables in Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay and would seriously consider a wind farm or even an offshore LNG facility, if it were in the right place. But surely we can find a better place for LNG terminals than in populated areas or in our National Parks.

What do you say to AES’s assertion that Outer Brewster is little-known and little-used?

It’s becoming better known and more visited. Just this past weekend I took a regularly scheduled trip out to see it and the outer islands with 50 brave souls. The adjacent shallow bays are among the most popular destinations in the park, for boating, fishing, and diving. And visits to the park were up by 30 percent in 2005 alone. This part of the National Park is a planned sanctuary, for wildlife and for visitors. Hardly anyone visits the ANWR Preserve in Alaska or wilderness areas of many other parks. That’s no reason to sell our parks for the private gain of just one company.

As for displaced wildlife on Outer Brewster Island, wouldn’t fauna just use other Harbor Islands? After all, there are 33 more of them.
Rebecca Harris, an avian ecology specialist who conducted a bird survey of the park, said that of all the islands she surveyed, Outer Brewster was one of the most impressive bird-wise, with great egrets, snowy egrets, black-crowned night herons, and glossy ibis. It is one of only two breeding colonies of glossy ibis in the state at last count, which was in the mid-1990s. I am sure that they could find a place to live somewhere in Maine, but I think they belong here, in our new National Park.