Excelerate Energy and Suez North America must still receive approval and licensing from the U.S. Maritime Administration before construction can begin. Those decisions are expected to come by February, though construction will not start until any conditions the Maritime Administration imposes are met.
Once approved, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Museum can look forward to $150,000 each by virtue of the deal.
But the governor focused on a bigger picture.
"These new terminals will allow us to safely expand gas supply without undue harm to the environment or to the fishing industry that is Gloucester's lifeblood," Romney said yesterday.
In addition to the so-called mitigation money already added to the projects' environmental certificates, Romney ordered that each company pay $4 million over two years for gas efficiency and low-income fuel-assistance programs. Felix Browne, a spokesman for Romney, said a nonprofit organization will administer the money in coordination with the state Division of Energy Resources.
Congressman John Tierney, D-Salem, repeated a call to create a regional energy plan that lays out what New England's needs will be, how much natural gas would be used, possible conservation measures and a breakdown of the best locations for terminals.
"I think that would have been the better course to take, and we'll see if we can get to that point under the new administration," Tierney said, referring to Gov.-elect Deval Patrick. He asked Romney to add that condition in a Dec. 15 letter.
Locally, opponents of the project said they are disappointed, though not surprised, that the two ports have been approved in productive fishing areas near Gloucester.
Gloucester Mayor John Bell accused Romney of approving the terminals to enhance his credentials during his presidential run.
"There's no regional planning, no consideration for our fishing communities and a complete disregard for the men and women that have earned their living going out to sea," Bell said.
The two ports, which are buoys large tankers will dock with to unload vaporized liquefied natural gas, are within five miles of each other in a section of ocean called Block 125, east of Marblehead, that is popular because of the abundance of fish and the proximity to shore. Each terminal and the tankers that will dock with them will have an 800-yard security perimeter where other boats cannot travel. Excelerate's port will be 13 miles southeast of Gloucester Harbor, while Suez's will be seven miles away.
Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Golledge Jr., when he issued the environmental certificates Dec. 1 and 12, ordered a total of $47 million in mitigation from the two companies. Of that, $12.6 million will go to a nonprofit organization to be established in Gloucester to buy and lease fishing permits.
Vito Giacalone, government affairs director for the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said the organization would begin to buy back fishing permits for fishermen who are looking to get out of the business because of tighter regulations.
Romney's approval came with a number of conditions, which include requiring the companies to live up to the mitigation package set out in the environmental affairs secretary's certificates and to notify the state at least three months before transferring the licenses to another company or organization.
It also sets time limits for them to become operational. The Excelerate project's deadline is Dec. 1, 2009, while Suez's is Dec. 1, 2012.
Excelerate expects to have its port running by the end of next year. Suez plans to finish its project in 2009.
The plans are now in the hands of two federal agencies, the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration, which held hearings jointly with state environmental regulators.