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struggle against Bechtel in Vallejo, USA (07/08/2002 11:20)
continuing struggle against Shell and Bechtel in Vallejo, California USA. For background, go to:

11:28 pm PT, Tuesday, Aug 6, 2002
Mayor steps back from LNG

By Lily W. Heyen
Staff writer

VALLEJO - After being one of the most vocal supporters of a liquefied natural gas facility on Mare Island, Mayor Tony Intintoli on Tuesday expressed skepticism that the fuel can be safely transported and stored in today's climate of terrorist threats.

The mayor's comments — made at a meeting at which Vallejo Fire Chief Don Parker discussed safety issues — surprised many of the approximately 80 people in the room. At the conclusion of the meeting, Intintoli suggested that the issue be brought back to the City Council before the city signs an exclusive right to negotiate with Bechtel and Shell.

Tuesday's meeting was scheduled for Parker to share with the public and City Council the information he gathered during a recent visit to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Everett, Mass.

In his introductory comments, Intintoli, who is up for re-election in 2003, said several factors had caused him to reconsider the project — a TV program about liquefied natural gas produced 25 years ago, terrorist threats, seismic concerns and doubts about the necessity for and economic viability of a power plant.

"When Chief Parker was in Boston, the fire chief there gave him a copy of a video of a 60 Minutes story produced in the 1970s about LNG," said Intintoli.

The video, which was shown at the meeting Tuesday, portrayed the transport of the fuel into Everett in a negative fashion, speaking about the potential impacts of leakage, accidents or attacks on the shipping vessel or facility.

While Intintoli pointed out that he felt the story was slanted, and that it did say the chances of an accident were miniscule, he primarily was upset that neither Shell nor Bechtel had brought the story to his attention.

Allison Abbott, a Bechtel spokeswoman, along with two Bechtel consultants, said they were unaware of the 60 Minutes story. "I don't know anyone in the company who did know about it before now," she said.

David Johnson, a principal engineer for Quest Consultants Inc., which works for Bechtel, said he'd worked in the energy industry for 25 years and knew nothing about the story.

Intintoli said the feasibility study approved by the City Council on May 7 had not yet begun. The study by Bechtel Enterprises and Shell Gas and Oil would assess the possibility of building a $1.5 billion liquefied natural gas import terminal, storage facility, regasification plant and 1,500-megawatt power plant on Mare Island.

"We are still negotiating the terms of the feasibility study," Intintoli said. "Nothing has been signed and the study has not begun."

He recounted the time when initial conversations about the project took place over a year ago and events that have happened since.

"When the idea was originally brought to us, it was during a time of energy blackouts and skyrocketing prices," he said. "Now we know that the crisis was manipulated by energy companies, such as Enron, that were broke and wanted the money."

He added that the recent collapse of firms such as Enron and Worldcom resulted from dishonest corporate officers, who were paid bonuses and sold their stock prior to the bankruptcies, leaving employee retirement accounts empty.

Intintoli also questioned whether new power plants are really needed and if they are economically viable, noting that several planned facilities have been put on hold due to lack of demand.

These comments were made in contrast to Intintoli's letter dated July 30, 2001, to Vice President M. P. Farooqui at Bechtel Enterprise Holdings, Inc., in which he stated, "I am very pleased that Bechtel is interested in Vallejo. I am also pleased to inform you that I support this project. ... I believe your proposed project would enhance our competitive position in the marketplace and would generate important business benefits such as quality jobs and revenue."

Gregory Gazaway, a member of Vallejoans for Community Planned Renewal, said, "This process has been a public relations joke from the beginning, but it's good to know that the mayor can be educated about this thing."

"The mayor completely reversed himself on this," said Skip Dodge, an opponent of the power plant. "I think the mayor needs to find some political cover, and the videotape is a means to do it."

In response to statements in the 60 Minutes piece, Johnson, whose company consults with Bechtel on engineering projects, said, "I can understand how seeing that tape could be disconcerting. Anyone would want to know about the dangers. But it didn't say anything about the thousands of trips that have been made safely and without incident."

Fire chief's presentation

Parker presented photographs of the Everett facility, along with a summary of his conversations with the fire chiefs in Everett and Boston and with the captain of a liquefied natural gas vessel.

He said he had concluded that the transport of the fuel and the Everett facility were safe operations with many redundant safety features and little opportunity for operations to go awry. However, he added that liquefied natural gas facilities are best located away from population centers. He said that traveling through San Pablo Bay would provide considerably more room than Boston Harbor, but he was not prepared to conclude that Mare Island would be an appropriate location.

Parker also noted that the ship's captain indicated that his primary safety concern was the ongoing threat of terrorist activities. He also described elaborate safety measures, including Coast Guard boats armed with machine guns, that are taken when an liquefied natural gas vessel enters Boston Harbor.

Following the meeting, Intintoli said he had learned a lot about corporate decision-making in the past two months.

"You need a high level of confidence that what you're being told is accurate," he said. "In questioning people at the highest level, I'm not sure that's the case. We need to know what measures the companies are willing to take to ensure security and safety, and guarantees that if the company faces a financial bind, those measures would still be in place."

Councilman Gary Cloutier also expressed reservations about the project.

"I have my doubts as to whether this would be a good thing for Vallejo," he said. "As I've talked to people, I've come to believe that this could be a setback for the city. A project of this magnitude could define the city in a way we don't want."

While stopping short of saying how he would vote when the subject again comes before the council, he did acknowledge that "people don't want [the plant] here, and the people deserve to be heard."

Abbott said that Bechtel has confidence in the merits of the feasibility study and is ready to sign the exclusive right to negotiate study agreement that will allow the company access to the necessary areas on Mare Island. She said that many of the issues about which the city had voiced concern could only be answered after an assessment of the area. On the other hand, the city is reluctant to sign the agreement granting access until the issues are resolved.

"The two companies have been operating for over 100 years with a good reputation," said Abbott. "We want to enhance that reputation, not denigrate it."

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