Town Council Update on January 3, 2017

Below is my statement that I made in regards to the two Spectra proposals before the town of Weymouth as I best know them at this time.  You can view this meeting at WETC Weymouth - it was the January 3, 2017 Town Council Meeting.  

 

Thank you Mr. President.  It came to my attention recently that we as a full Town Council have not discussed the two Spectra pipeline proposals for quite some time as a governing body.  The last two meetings where this was on the Agenda were April 14 and May 2, 2016 – both of which were Executive Sessions – with litigation on the agenda and the Mayor contemplating a mitigation package.  Although we closed out the executive session here, this topic is not currently being updated on in any committee or regularly to us as a full body.

One can argue that we do not have any jurisdiction over this matter, however the Town Council routinely gets updates about various topics in town and seeing as a lot has changed since May and construction is believed to begin in March, I thought it would be appropriate to give the council and public a 7 month snapshot of where we are today from the last time we formally discussed the compressor station and pipeline proposal.

It’s actually easier to start with the second project – Access Northeast which will expand the compressor station and install 4 miles of pipeline through Weymouth and the Fore River.   

Preliminary hearings were conducted in May of this year - the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board conducted a public hearing and FERC conducted its Scoping Meeting – this Town Council submitted comments to both parties against this proposal. 

This project hit an extreme hurdle on August 17th when the Supreme Judicial Court struck down the finance plans of Access Northeast.  The funding mechanism for this $3 billion natural gas expansion project was to be a tariff on Electric Rate Payers which the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved in the fall of 2015. The SJC ruled that this approval of the DPU violated the 1997 electric restructuring act, which the legislature enacted in part to shield rate payers from investment risks. 

On December 16th – just about three weeks ago, the monthly progress report was published from Spectra to FERC in which Spectra believes they should take additional time to solidify its plans for this expansion.  Spectra reported they now expect to file their draft Resource Reports for Access Northeast by mid-2017 followed by submitting their FERC application in late 2017.

So the last time we met, Spectra had a finance plan in place for Access Northeast.  They were expected to file their resource reports late this past summer and file their application for Access Northeast in November.  This latest report now has them about an entire year behind the initial schedule.   It is being speculated that Spectra will use the first half of 2017 to either work to change legislation to enable the electric ratepayer tariff or seek to find funding through a different source, such as natural gas ratepayers.  Following DPU’s current open Docket 16-181 which is a long-term supply plan for National Grid Gas – which has a public hearing on January 31st, might be a good indicator on what the future plans may entail. 

Until we know for sure, it’s a good update for those fighting the pipeline piece that the proposal is setback at least a year. 

Now the first project – Atlantic Bridge – which constructs a new compressor station in North Weymouth is still officially on track, however this project too has hit numerous hurdles. 

A month after the Mayor rejected the mitigation package for this project, our conservation commission denied the wetlands permit for construction on the North Parcel for numerous reasons.  This prompted Spectra to appeal this decision to DEP who did overturn our conservation commission’s decision by issuing a Superseding Order of Conditions in August.  However, the Town did appeal this decision.  Not only that, a group of 10 residents in Weymouth got together per DEP regulations and went through the motions to become their own intervenor group as well.  This isn’t done often and requires a lot of work, as they needed to obtain their own legal advice as they are not allowed to use the town’s outside legal firm.  On October 17th, we attended a pre-hearing conference in Lakeville, Massachusetts to start the appeal process.  However, since that time, Mass DEP put a stay on the decision until Spectra can comply with the Weymouth Wetlands Ordinance or essentially take the ConCom to court to get some kind of judicial override of the decision.  They also stated they were waiting for a FERC ruling before they could move forward.

This lengthy process has also delayed two other vital approvals needed – The state’s Chapter 91 waterways license, in which we had a public hearing for back in May, has not issued it’s determination yet as it’s waiting to hear the decision of the Wetland’s Permit.   

Coastal Zone Management, which is a federal act or authorization was suppose to make a decision this past summer, however in August, they issued a 1 year stay to make their decision based upon the fact they do not have the final rulings of the Wetlands permit or Waterways license.  They anticipate a final determination by August 23, 2017.  We also have not gotten the Comprehensive Air Plan approval. 

Since we met last time in May to now – no approvals or permits were acquired back then.  And still today, no approvals or permits have been acquired. 

The biggest update as of late is the sale of the North Parcel from Calpine to Spectra on December 1st.  This came to a shock to many of us due to the nature of the subdivision or lack thereof.  On November 9th, myself and Councilor Lacey attended the Planning Board meeting where Calpine and Spectra tried to get subdivision plans approved.  Their plan was not approved by the board, yet on December 1st, Calpine sold parts of the North Parcel to Spectra for $13 million. 

This was one of the key points that opponents of the compressor station proposal were waiting for, but thought because the land wasn’t properly subdivided for a sale yet, there wouldn’t be a transfer of land between to two parties until such time.  On December 23rd, Mayor Hedlund filed suit in Norfolk Superior Court due to the fact that Calpine violated the state's subdivision control law by selling approximately 16 acres of the power plant’s property to Spectra without first obtaining town approval of a subdivision plan.

This lawsuit is strictly about the sale without the correct subdivision and nothing else.  I have full confidence in the administration to explore the agreement the town has with the powerplant as well as the 126 page Final Decision the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board issued in February 2000 which outlines terms and conditions which must be met with the Town of Weymouth. 

I have been told since early summer by Spectra lawyers and representatives that the FERC certificate can be issued “any day now.”  It has been reported by virtually everyone – even just a week or two ago in the paper that it can be issued “any day now.”  As of 5pm today, FERC has not issued any certificate or order for the Atlantic Bridge project.  Construction, according to Spectra, is suppose to start in March – or two months away as there has been no official update that Atlantic Bridge is delayed as there is with Access Northeast.  I have reached out to FERC to ask:

-         Can FERC issue a certificate without CZM or the appropriate wetlands and waterways license issued yet? And

-        If FERC can issue a certificate, what happens if every license/permit is not approved on the state and federal level? 

I received the following this afternoon from Atlantic Bridge project manager, Maggie Suter:

Ms. Haugh,

Algonquin cannot begin construction until it has received the applicable Federal authorizations.  The FERC has not yet issued an Order approving or denying the project, and Algonquin cannot construct without this authorization.  The FERC issues conditional authorizations, meaning the authorization is contingent upon satisfying certain items identified in the Order.  If you look to past FERC Orders or the Atlantic Bridge EA, you will see that one condition that is routinely added to Orders is that prior to construction, applicants must obtain all applicable Federal authorizations, including those Federal authorizations that have been delegated down to the state.  You will also see from past orders that FERC orders also routinely include language explaining that FERC encourages applicants to cooperate with state and local authorities, but this does not mean that state and local agencies may prohibit or unreasonably delay the construction or operation of projects.  Of course, we won't know what language appears in the Atlantic Bridge Order until it is issued, but this language has appeared in every Order I have seen the FERC issue.

Should the FERC approve the project, Algonquin still would not have the ability to begin construction.  It must receive a separate Notice to Proceed with construction for this.  The FERC routinely issues its Order before other agencies can act.  However, the condition mentioned above, prevents any construction from occurring. 

Should the FERC approve the project, but another Federal authorization be denied, then Algonquin could not proceed with construction.

I hope this information is helpful.

Maggie Suter

 

So we have been told routinely for two years this is a federal approval.  Even politicians above us have stated this is a federal approval and we have no say.  But as Ms. Suter stated:  “Should the FERC approve the project, but another Federal authorization be denied, then Algonquin could not proceed with construction.” 

That other Federal authorization is CZM which clearly states in their August 3, 2016 letter that they will make their decision based on the local and state determinations. 

So even if Spectra says they will start in March, and FERC issues a certificate, they cannot start until CZM gives and approval, which as of today, will not happen until August 2017.  FERC also will have to issue a “Notice to Proceed” with construction prior to. 

This is where we are at now.  I wish there was a more fomal update on Atlantic Bridge, but unfortunately we are stuck just putting the pieces together and formulating our own timeline based on all the factors that go into a federally regulated permitted natural gas project. 

This has gone on for over 2 years and I am fully committed to keep staying informed and be as knowledgable as humanly possible moving forward.  I commend the administration for their hard work and continued work on this very important issue. 

Should anyone have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me, the Mayor’s office or seek out the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), a citizens action group who can help clear up any questions or concerns you may have. 

Thank you.  


connect