By Christopher anderson
WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard said Tuesday that it will resume enforcement of a no-boating zone around Cove Point’s liquefied natural gas facility, which company officials expect to reopen by the spring.
Critics have said the natural gas terminal, which is within sight of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, creates a potentially explosive mix that could be a target for terrorists and a threat to national security and safety.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., last year asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reverse the preliminary approval it issued for the facility, arguing that on the floor of the Senate that if liquefied natural gas tankers “are allowed on the Chesapeake near Calvert Cliffs, a nightmare scenario could become reality.”
Mikulski could not be reached Tuesday to comment on the Coast Guard announcement.
But regulators have not put the brakes on plans by Dominion, a Virginia- based energy company, to return the Cove Point facility to full operation by spring, said Dan Genest, a company spokesman. He would not discuss details, but also said the plant would be safe.
“We have put into place an aggressive security plan that addresses the legitimate concerns of the senator and the residents that live around the plant,” Genest said.
Coast Guard officials are also expected to announce in the near future whether they plan to establish a permanent safety zone around the natural gas plant, as they did recently for the waters around the nuclear power plant just 3.5 miles away.
Boating restrictions around Cove Point were first put in place in the late 1970s when the terminal opened, according to Coast Guard officials. But natural gas operations there ended in the early 1980s and the boating restrictions were lifted in 1983.
Since then, the offshore platform where tankers delivered their cargo of liquefied natural gas has become a popular fishing spot, with fish attracted to the artificial reef that the platform moorings and underwater pipes have formed. The platform is about a mile offshore in the bay.
The safety zone requires that boats stay at least 50 yards from the platform during the current renovations, Genest said. Once the platform becomes operational and tankers begin unloading liquefied natural gas there, fishing boats will be kept at least 50 yards away when the platform is idle and as much as 1,000 yards away when a tanker is moving into position.
Recreational and professional fisherman are not happy with the reopening of the plant and the restrictions it would bring.
“The opening is going to hinder us. It’s going to be a tremendous loss of fishing ground,” said John Montgomery, a charter fishing boat captain who frequently fishes the waters around Cove Point.
Montgomery, who is a member of the Solomon’s Charter Captain Association, said that many of the area’s anglers would like to see another artificial reef built to replace the fertile fishing grounds around the platform that will soon be off-limits.
“It would take several years for it (a new reef) to be as productive as the gas docks, but it would be something for the future,” he said.
Montgomery said he’s concerned about the safety issues as well.
“If they’re unloading a tanker there at that dock, I’m not going to be within five or six miles of it.”