BRADENTON – After months of finger pointing, officials from Port
Dolphin and Longboat Key agreed last week to meet with the Florida
Department of Environmental Protection on where to install a proposed
underwater natural gas pipeline.
Port Dolphin has applied for a U.S. Coast Guard permit to build
a floating liquid natural gas port 28 miles off Anna Maria Island,
where tankers would convert liquefied natural gas into vaporized
natural gas and pump it to Port Manatee to supply electric companies.
Longboat Key officials are concerned that the company’s preferred
pipeline route off the north end of Anna Maria Island could jeopardize
high quality beach renourishment sand deposits used on Longboat Key
and Anna Maria Island beaches, and destroy environmentally sensitive
underwater habitat. They propose a different route that Port Dolphin
Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash asked the parties to agree
to a meeting after hearing both sides dispute the other’s contentions
at a commission workshop last week.
Both the county and the town have expressed support for the project,
which would have a significant economic impact on Port Manatee, but
both have reservations about the location of the pipeline.
"We are all in agreement I believe on two things," said Charlie
Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Natural Resources Department
- opportunities to bring natural gas ashore at Port Manatee, and that "the
best pipeline route is one which avoids as much clean, white sand as
Longboat Key prefers a route to the north of known and potential
sand deposits that could be used for future beach renourishment projects
for both the town and the county.
Port Dolphin said that when Gulfstream Natural Gas Systems requested
approval in 2001 of a pipeline route similar to Longboat’s preferred
route, DEP refused, saying the route contained environmentally sensitive
"We have known from the beginning that this area contains large
amounts of hard bottom with sensitive habitats," said Kristoffer
Evju, assistant project manager for Port Dolphin. "Such an area
will not be approved by DEP."
"We don’t know if that’s true" without current studies of
the area, said Rick Spadoni, of Manatee County’s consulting firm, Coastal
Planning and Engineering. Surveys and maps are subject to change because
the sea floor changes, he said, and even current data is subject to
interpretation and depends on the specific criteria that engineers
are given to work with.
But if it is true that Longboat’s preferred route goes through
sensitive hard bottom areas, Port Dolphin could possibly wind its
pipeline around those areas, he said.
"The only thing we know for sure is that there are hills containing
beach compatible sand off Anna Maria Island, and that Longboat Key’s
preferred pipeline route does not contain those sand hill features," Spadoni
Port Dolphin’s most recent alternative pipeline route has the least
impact on the sand deposits identified by Coastal, Port Dolphin Project
Manager German Castro said.
It is the third route the company has offered for consideration
in response to concerns from state and local officials.
In a June 2008 report, DEP wrote the U.S. Coast Guard that: "The
(DEP) Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems has grave concerns that
the Port Dolphin LNG Deepwater Port and its proposed pipeline alignment
will eliminate from future use large quantities of beach compatible
sand needed for regional sediment management in the southwest Gulf
coast region of Florida… We would prefer that the pipeline follow the
existing Gulfstream pipeline alignment to minimize the impact of increasing
multiple uses of the nearshore waters."
The newest round of documents in the permitting process began circulating
last month, headed by a report from Jacksonville-based Taylor Engineering,
hired by Port Dolphin as an independent consultant to assess sand
quality around its preferred route.
Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis disputed both the report
and its independence, saying that it omitted an area called "F2" that
potentially contains a large quantity of usable sand, which Longboat’s
preferred route would avoid.
He suggested stopping the clock on the permitting process until
the issue is resolved.
Rerouting the pipeline already has cost Port Dolphin millions of
dollars, Evju said, and the company hopes to avoid another delay
in the permitting process, including a draft revision of the Coast
Guard’s Environmental Impact Statement, which examines possible detrimental
effects of the pipeline.
The final statement should be issued soon, predicted Assistant
County Attorney Sarah Schenk, who said she was hesitant to advise
county commissioners to oppose the pipeline because they also sit
as the Manatee Port Authority.
The county estimates a potential $20 million in operating revenues
for the port over the duration of the Port Dolphin project.
"It’s a legal process, and it’s political as well," she said.