WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard has proposed new maritime traffic restrictions for the waters of Maryland and New York, aimed at preventing acts of terrorism in the wake of Sept. 11.
The proposals, which were published Thursday in the Federal Register, would create a 500-yard restricted zone around the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal, which is set to reopen in May.
The new rules would also set 500-yard floating safety zones around cruise ships and ships with dangerous cargo in the Chesapeake Bay and regulate circumstances under which boats may enter or operate in Long Island Sound.
The Coast Guard conceded that the bay restrictions could affect shipping traffic and that the restrictions around Cove Point, in particular, could have “adverse effects on the local maritime community that has been using the area as a fishing ground.”
But it said those potential problems were outweighed by safety concerns at the natural gas plant, which is just 3.5 miles from the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.
Local fishermen agreed.
“It will be a major inconvenience for these folks, but national security is national security,” said one commercial fisherman, who asked not to be identified. “If they blow the place up, the last thing you’re going to worry about is where to fish.”
Coast Guard Lt. Dulani Woods said that the regulations, if passed, would most likely take effect in mid-June — shortly after the scheduled reopening of Cove Point, which has been mothballed since the early 1980s.
That reopening is one reason the Coast Guard has proposed the new rules. Published reports have said that the plant’s new operator, Richmond,Va.-based Dominion Power, expects to have as many as 100 ships a year at the plant in 2004. Dominion Power officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The new restrictions would extend the plant’s current 50-yard safety zone to 500 yards in all directions and at all times, creating a safety area about 2,500 yards long by 1,200 yards wide.
A second set of regulations would establish a 500-yard security zone around tankers heading to the plant — as well as cruise ships and other vessels carrying dangerous materials in the bay. Other boats would be prohibited from that area while the large vessels moved through.
The Coast Guard conceded that the regulations could cause a traffic jam in the bay. But Woods said they should not snarl bay traffic too badly. The rules would only be applied to certain vessels, and only when necessary, he said.
“Not all of these vessels will have a safety or security zone around them. The rule would be activated when the captain of the port deems it necessary,” Woods said.
If the captain of the port decides that a vessel should be protected, however, then any other nearby “vessels may have to alter their course or hold their position while the boats with the safety zone transit the area,” he said.
Local boaters could not foresee any problems resulting from the proposed regulations.
“I don’t think its going to affect anything if the rule passes,” said Michael Ordiway, manager at Combs Creek Marina in Leonardtown.
“Most people don’t like to get close to the cruise ships or big cargo boats anyway” because “the wake is just terrible and it’s unsafe,” he added.