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Proposed gas terminal is not worth the risk

Guest Opinion
By Joan Krajewski, Anna C. Verna and Frank DiCicco

Printed in Northeast Times and Spirit Community Newspapers

In the very near future, Philadelphia Gas Works will announce it has found a developer to partner with in efforts to expand its Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal (LNG) in the Port Richmond section of the city into the Freedom Energy Center, an import shipping terminal for LNG. By now, you have heard much about this proposal and, as your elected representatives in City Council, we wanted to make our feelings very clear.

Since November 2004, we have been working with our riverfront communities that will be affected by this project by hosting and participating in meetings, briefings and updates so that our constituency can be knowledgeable and educated on the complex LNG facts and figures.

Due to overwhelming and fierce opposition and uproar from our constituents, both concerned individuals and community organizations, we have sponsored a resolution in City Council memorializing our opposition to this project and any other proposal to create an LNG Import Terminal in the city of Philadelphia.

More importantly, we are very optimistic that we will have the necessary votes in Council to guarantee passage of the resolution. Since, after review by the Philadelphia Gas Commission, the LNG proposal must come before Council for final approval, this resolution of opposition should effectively end any and all debate regarding this issue.

As your elected officials, we find it is difficult to imagine a worse location for an LNG shipping terminal than Port Richmond. We also find it hard to imagine a worse shipping route for tankers loaded with LNG than to have them passing the densely populated residential neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, Whitman, Pennsport, Queen Village, Society Hill, Old City, Northern Liberties and Fishtown (as well as our neighboring communities in New Jersey).

Docking and unloading the LNG in the Port Richmond and Bridesburg neighborhoods would complete the journey. Additional security risks include the tankers passing under several highly traveled Delaware River bridges and within close proximity to Philadelphia International Airport, oil refineries, the professional sports and entertainment complex, as well as Center City, with its commercial and historic significance.

Our commitment to the revitalization and redevelopment of the Delaware River waterfront with recreation, residential and open space for public access was strongly in place prior to any talk of an LNG terminal.

Our vision of giving the Delaware River back to the people of Philadelphia does not include football-field-sized LNG tankers floating up our river hauling potentially hazardous and dangerous chemicals vulnerable to spillage or attack. We believe that the potential risks outweigh the advantages and that the time to act is now, before a problem develops.

While a successful terrorist attack on an LNG tanker shipping facility is unlikely, the reality of the post-9/11 world is that if the Port Richmond LNG shipping terminal is built, the city and region will need to incur extraordinary expenses to guard against possible attacks and be ready to respond to the unimaginable, should preventive measures fail.

Currently, there are only four LNG terminals in the continental United States, the closest being Everett, Mass., a suburb of Boston, which has similar demographics to Philadelphia. As an example, it costs the city of Boston approximately $80,000 every time a tanker makes a trip to its harbor. Once a tanker enters the harbor, the Coast Guard maintains command and control. The state police and Boston Police Department as well as agents from the Massachusetts Environmental Police meet the LNG tanker for escort. A state police helicopter hovers above the LNG tanker and all bridge and maritime traffic cease. Flights must also be redirected to and from the airport.

The Boston P.D. is forced to take regular patrol units out of service and place them along the shoreline for added security. Once the tanker passes, the police are restored to their normal duties. Prior to the tankerís arrival at the import terminal, a team of nine state police dive the pier and adjacent waters. While the ship is in port, both state and city police maintain a 24-hour detail inside the LNG import facility and its surrounding area.

We do not believe in scaring our constituents or creating doomsday scenarios for political gain; however, no one can deny that the consequences of an LNG accident, while unlikely, are grim and disastrous. Despite an estimated economic benefit of as much as $500 million, we cannot and will not put a price tag on the lives and livelihoods of our constituents.

Krajewski, Verna and DiCicco are Philadelphia City Council members whose districts include the river wards.

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Last modified: 18 January 2006

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