With construction of the Neptune liquefied natural gas terminal underway 10 miles off the Gloucester coast, nearly two years of often rancorous debate and opposition to the project has largely given way to optimism about life with LNG.
At Cruiseport Gloucester yesterday, elected officials and representatives of the fishing industry joined executives from Suez, the company building Neptune, to celebrate the project's arrival and delivery of $23.5 million in mitigation to a host of regional maritime causes, including $6.3 million to Gloucester fishermen.
The event, which featured discussion about the terminal's economic benefit to the city and potential boost to the region's energy supply, contrasted with debate during permitting that the project would harm the ocean and squeeze already struggling local fishermen.
"I am proud to be here on such an important day for Gloucester and Massachusetts, as we try to address our most difficult issues facing not only our region, but country" Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said. "I am very proud that when the fishing industry stood up, we were able to strike a balance between the new economy and traditional economy."
Tarr, advocating on behalf of the fishing industry, was one of the most vocal opponents of both Neptune and Excelerate's nearby Northeast Gateway port, arguing that the projects would compromise valuable local fishing grounds.
But with the terminal permitted and construction of the 13-mile pipeline underway, Tarr said after the event that he is now focused on the potential benefits of the project.
"Would I prefer to have the fishing area? Yes," Tarr said. "The fishing grounds are unique and there were other ways to meet the needs for the region's gas. However, these were the options on the table. We are losing a fishing opportunity and the mitigation provides a fishing opportunity."
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, an advocate for the LNG ports during the permitting process, said the community has come together around the project and residents who had once screamed at her after hearings had since apologized.
"I bore the brunt of anger in the community," Kirk said. "These projects were controversial. But the affected population was taken care of through payments from Suez and Excelerate."
After the event, Kirk said the mitigation package and the rising cost of oil had turned the community in support of the LNG projects.
Opposition to the two LNG projects from fishermen centered around the loss of fishing grounds in the area planned for the terminals, called Block 125. When gas-filled tankers are off-loading at the terminals, security restrictions will prevent other boats from coming within 800 feet of the floating ports, forcing fishermen to head to other waters.
Of the $47 million in combined mitigation funding coming from Suez and Excelerate, $12.6 million will go to Gloucester fishermen in the form of a contribution to the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund. The fund buys fishing permits and leases days at sea to local fishermen negatively impacted by fishing limits and regulations.
The objectives of the fund are to allow local fishermen who want to get out of the industry to sell their permits, but to have those permits stay in the community and to prevent a large corporation from buying and consolidating them.
The man running the "permit bank," Preservation Fund President Vito Giacalone, said after the Suez event that, despite the mitigation, the fishing community would still have preferred full use of the fishing grounds and some concerns about the effect of the LNG terminals remain.
"To say everyone that was concerned is not concerned is not right," Giacalone said, "but now that the permits are given, there are other fights for fishermen. The fact that the permit bank has been funded and days at sea will be benefiting the community is a good thing. People will say we got something."
So far, with a large chunk of the Excelerate money, the Preservation Fund was been able to offer between 10 and 20 additional days at sea to the approximately 80 Gloucester fishermen who qualified, Giacalone said.
He said fishing community opinion about the ports would depend to a large extent on interaction between the two groups when the ports are fully operational.
"Because they have not been operational, the disruptions to fishing have not happened," Giacalone said. "When the disruption begins, it will be important that the communication between the two sides be good. The working relationship has yet to be established,"
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org