Federal Fisheries Agency Opposes
by Tony Lystra
The National Marine Fisheries Service has said a plan to build a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Columbia River likely would harm valuable salmon habitat.
In a letter last month, the federal agency urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc.'s permit to dredge the river, at least until the NMFS has more information about the project.
A NorthernStar spokesman characterized the letter as routine, and said NMFS's skepticism is typical.
"There's nothing that we see unusual here," said Joe Desmond, NorthernStar's senior vice president of external affairs. "Until they have all the information, they're not in a position to say yes."
Building and operating the terminal, as well as dredging to make way for tankers, likely would impact the estuary's vital habitat, the NMFS said.
The agency noted that the Columbia River estuary has been referred to as "the most valuable spawning and nursery area for salmon in the continental United States."
It said the "survival and recovery" of salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act depends on the health of the Columbia.
The agency also said it's willing to reconsider its position once it has more information about the project.
NorthernStar plans to pull 700,000 cubic yards of material from 46 acres of the river, deepening the riverbed by more than 9 feet. The company has proposed its own salmon recovery plan, which would contribute $50 million over 35 years to habitat recovery on the river.
In its letter to the corps, NMFS said it wants a guarantee that the recovery efforts will proceed if NorthernStar falls on hard times. The company, it said, should be required to hold a bond "to ensure habitat impacts are fully restored or mitigated in the event of bankruptcy or abandonment."
Fisheries Agency will Explain Estuary Plan by Erik Robinson, The Columbian, 1/26/8
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