The Maine Board of Environmental Protection has decided to give a developer more time to try to line up financing and gather technical information for a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Calais.
In a letter Thursday to Calais LNG, the board's chair, Susan Lessard, said she would put the company's permit application on hold until Dec. 1, when the board will re-evaluate the status of the project.
The project's supporters said its importance to the state justifies some flexibility. Opponents argue that Calais LNG has had more than enough time to secure financing and should withdraw its application in the meantime.
Based on the scope, significance and cost of the project, Lessard ruled, it's reasonable to allow Calais LNG the additional time it's requesting.
Thursday's decision was the latest twist in the drawn-out process of trying to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Washington County.
Calais LNG wants to develop a $1 billion gas delivery terminal on the St. Croix River, one of two projects proposed in the area. Developers and their supporters say it would give Maine an in-state supply of natural gas, which would help lower energy costs and create jobs.
Critics say new gas sources in other regions reduce the need for a terminal in Maine. They also say the tanker traffic would affect coastal wetlands and fishermen, and present a hazard on the narrow route through Head Harbour Passage.
The company has yet to formally make its case in public.
In mid-July, Calais LNG surprised the board by asking it to postpone a long-anticipated hearing on the project. The company said it needed more time to get material to the Department of Environmental Protection.
A week later, it revealed that its lead financial backer, GS Power Holdings LLC, was pulling out of the project. It told the board that if the Goldman Sachs subsidiary couldn't sell its ownership interest by Aug. 11, all permit applications would be withdrawn.
But a month later, Calais LNG sent word to the board that it needed another 30 days to line up a financial backer. The board consented.
Earlier this week, the company asked the board to cancel a meeting set for Wednesday between the parties in the case, and to keep its permit application on hold until mid-October, while negotiations continue. Lessard denied that request, and the meeting went ahead as scheduled.
Based on that meeting, she decided to grant the company's request for another 30 days to find a new investor, plus another six weeks to gather technical information requested by the DEP.
Lessard's decision didn't please the project's critics.
"I guess we're not surprised," said Sean Mahoney, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation. "But we're a little disappointed the extension didn't include a real deadline, after which the application would be returned."
That point was echoed by Ron Shems, a lawyer representing Save Passamaquoddy Bay and native tribes. The developer should have financing before applying for a permit, he said, and the board should ask for some assurance.
Copyright (c) 2010, Portland Press Herald, Maine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.