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Vetting for controversial natural gas plan extended 90 days

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The federal government has added at least three months to its timeline for vetting a controversial plan for a deepwater natural gas plant off the coast of Sandy Hook.

The proposal by Liberty Natural Gas is being reviewed by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard, falling under a law that requires it to be processed within a year. But the agencies on Oct. 21 notified the firm that it would suspend the review timeline for 90 days, through mid-January, so it could fill in more than 200 "data gaps" related to the project's environmental impact.

The project, known as Port Ambrose, would be constructed east of Monmouth County, and accept liquefied natural gas shipments from the Caribbean and other areas, LNG has said. Once the gas is received and converted, it would be channeled through a new pipeline built under the ocean floor and carried to New York City and Long Island, N.Y.

The plan has been slammed by environmental advocates, who cite concerns about emissions, safety and an overabundance of natural gas in the region.

In a letter to LNG, the Coast Guard said it was still awaiting several responses to an earlier round of environmental questions. The agency also said last month's federal government shutdown delayed it from starting a review of the new data that had been supplied to date.

In a prepared statement, LNG chief executive Roger Whelan said the Coast Guard's action "was expected given the recent government shutdown," adding that "timeline suspensions are a normal part of the application review process and happen with almost all deepwater port applications."

Whelan said the federal agencies "will continue to review and process the license application as normal, but in order to meet the timing requirements established under the Deepwater Port Act, it was necessary to temporarily stop the regulatory clock."

He's also confident the review "will show the Port Ambrose project has minimal impacts to the environment and significant benefits to the region," he said.

Meantime, opponents of the plan cheered the Coast Guard's action as a temporary victory. The Highlands-based Clean Ocean Action coalition, which publicized the letter today, issued this statement from member Andrew Provence.

"After three similar requests by this coalition — which represents the voices of over 130 organizations from around the region — the U.S. Coast Guard finally made the right decision," Provence said.


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