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Both sides agree to talks in Port Dolphin dispute


BRADENTON - Representatives of Port Dolphin Energy LLC and Longboat Key will sit down to try to iron out their differences over the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline.

The decision, announced Tuesday at the afternoon session of the Manatee County Commission's workshop, came amid a flurry of reports, rebuttals and letters that flowed almost until Commissioner Gwendolyn Brown gaveled the session to order.

"There's no disagreement that this pipeline corridor should avoid beach-quality white sand," said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's director of natural resources.

Both Port Dolphin and Longboat Key have commissioned studies and filed memoranda on the issue of the pipeline's path.

County staffers have recommended that the county should support and encourage the Coast Guard and state agencies to approve a pipeline corridor that avoids as much white sand as possible.

Port Dolphin wishes to build a deepwater port 28 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a memorandum from Hunsicker to the County Commission. The gas will be turned into liquid aboard special vessels, then pumped through the pipeline to the west coast, and then across Tampa Bay to Port Manatee, connecting on land with existing gas pipelines in Manatee County.

An initial pipeline alignment from December 2007 had a direct effect on Longboat Key's sand sources for beach renourishment. A second alignment from December 2008 avoided most of the sand sources, Hunsicker wrote in the memo, but while there would be no effect in the near term, in the long term (30 to 40 years) there would be an impact on sand sources for Manatee County.

A third pipeline alignment from February of this year and proposed by Longboat Key would reduce the effects on Longboat Key and Manatee County's sand sources. Port Dolphin prefers the second alignment, Hunsicker wrote.

Bruce St. Denis, the town manager of Longboat Key, said he disagreed with a White Paper and the Taylor Report, which he said was billed as a serious third-party review, but the town never heard anything about it.

German Castro, a project development manager with Port Dolphin, said that while there is another gas pipeline to the north of the proposed line, it cannot be used by the new project because it is "fully subscribed."

"The purpose of our pipeline is to provide an additional supply of gas," he said, not to replace or be a substitute for another supply.

Commissioner Donna Hayes asked for clarification on why the third alignment, which completely avoided the area near Longboat Key, could not be used.

"The survey of that area shows a great percentage of hard bottoms," Castro said.

Commissioner Joe McClash suggested that maybe it was time for both sides to sit down and talk out their differences and come to some agreement.

"Everyone wants this project to happen," he said, but they're "just disagreeing over where it should go."

Commissioner Ron Getman said that he supported the pipeline because of the impact on the port. David McDonald, the director of Port Manatee, said, "We are in talks with Port Dolphin about operational and use needs on port property."

The gas line's economic impact on the port would be more than $25 million in operating revenue and short-term investments, according to a Port Dolphin memorandum released Tuesday. "The economic impact for Manatee County and the region will be in excess of $125 million during the life of the project, which is expected to be 30 years," the memo said.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she wanted Longboat Key and Port Dolphin to get into a room with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and start talking.

"We don't want to lose the gas line," she said, referring to the recent efforts in the state Legislature to move forward on oil drilling near the shore. "After this comes oil. It's not that we don't want you. We just want to make sure that it's going to be the best for all of you."

After both sides agreed to talk with the DEP, Port Dolphin spokesman Wayne Hopkins said the company was satisfied with what happened.

"We thought this was a constructive workshop," he said. "The county staff has done a good job of understanding complex issues and the recommendation that they made today was logical and it prompted a very good discussion on the part of the commission."

As for the upcoming meeting, he said, "We have been working with them continually on the project and we expect again for that to be a constructive meeting."


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