Bruce Hughes, president of Southeast LNG, came offering an apology, but by the time he was done with his presentation, Savannah City Council members were even more impelled to resist the company's bid to haul liquefied natural gas through the city.
To make reparations for not meeting with any city officials to discuss a proposal to move LNG from the Elba Island storage facility down Truman Parkway and along DeRenne Avenue, Hughes met with the City Council in a workshop session. Trucks will carry liquefied natural gas through the city's two hospitals, Hunter Army Airfield, and a half-dozen residential neighborhoods.
Southeast LNG's earliest plan requires about 10 double-hulled trucks by late 2012, with up to 58 trucks within 10 years. Each truck would move 13,000 gallons.
Last month, with the insistence of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, LNG company officials hosted a public meeting. Mayor Otis Jonhson and other Savannah officials, however, wasn't satisfied with the meeting. It did not allow the thorough review and discussion the Savannah group was hoping for.
The mayor and other council members already confirmed there is a lack of communication just hearing two responses made by Hughes.
When Mayor Johnson inquired when company officials planned to meet with the first responders who would be called out should an accident happens, the answer he got from Hughes was, "they had been invited to the public meeting."
With regards to the area's only trauma center, Alderman Jeff Felser asked Hughes if Memorial University Medical Center had been approached already, to which Hughes answered "no" to. "The process doesn't include talking to every resident or business along the proposed route," Hughes added.
According to Johnson, if the company really were sincere about divulging its plans, it would have met with officials from the city of Savannah and Chatham County.
"I'm prepared to struggle against this on principle alone until you're prepared to sit down together and have a real, honest discussion about this proposal," Johnson said. "... We have an obligation to the citizens who elected us to protect them from hurt and harm and undue risk."
The Mayor said he plans to bring in a consultant to help the city iron out things with the company's proposal. He also acknowledge that, with the company's deep pocket and Washington lobbyists backing the company, LNG would likely get what they wanted, regardless of the city's best efforts.
It was also asked by Alderman Tony Thomas, how many state and federal elected officials the company had met with. Hughes' answer was -- he did not know. But as Hughes and his group left, according to Tony Thomas, Oney Temple - the regional director of state government affairs for El Paso Pipeline, a partner in the trucking proposal - told him he had met with both congressmen, both U.S. senators, and three state legislators.
"They've been talking to everybody but us," Thomas said. "Why haven't we heard anything about it?"
When the meeting was over, Hughes addressed the council's concerns about furnishing information.
"We haven't done a good enough job of communicating," he said. "That was made crystal clear today."
Hughes' repeated assurances that liquefied natural gas cannot explode and is not combustible did not appease council members and Savannah Fire & Emergency Services Chief Charles Middleton. They had concerns about things that may happen if the liquid leaked as a vapor. Hughes answered it casually that it poses little risk because the vapor, being lighter than air, quickly evaporates.
LNG trucking has been doing business for 40 years now across the United states. The company has more than 750,000 trips and there have been lesser than 30 accidents. According to data the company provided to federal regulators, only one resulted in the liquid vaporizing and that incident didn't produce a single casualty.
The council was also reminded by Hughes that state and federal regulations govern truck transport.
The Savannah Fire & Emergency Services Chief, Middleton, said he had not talked to any other cities that have LNG transported, or had Southeast officials scheduled a meeting with him to discuss about their proposal. He needs to know more about delivery schedules, the planned destinations, and discuss response methods in case of accidents.
Rochelle Small-Toney, acting City Manager, told the council that in 2001, then-City Manager Michael Brown had a deal from Southern LNG - which was aiming to reactivate its Elba Island terminal - that the liquefied gas would not be hauled to and from the facility.
Brown documented that concern in two memos which was also sent to the Savannah Morning News, and added that he had asked Southern, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other appropriate officials to advise the city's hazmat staff.
"In my opinion, it bears further examination," Small-Toney said. "We need to be very diligent in determining how safe the transport of LNG is through any part of the city or anywhere in the region or Georgia, really."
It is the wish of the company officials for the federal to have the trucking plan approved by February. Possibly later this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- the primary body overseeing the application -- is planning to hold another public meeting in Savannah.
The meetings will give the public an opportunity to make queries about the LNG proposal. Citizens are also given the opportunity to submit their written comments.