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Firm sues to revive gas plant plan

The company asks court to order Long Beach to finish an environmental report on the proposed harbor terminal.

February 09, 2007|Gary Polakovic | Times Staff Writer

The company backing a $750-million natural gas terminal in Long Beach Harbor filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to revive its project after officials in that city terminated it last month.

Sound Energy Solutions, a partnership of ConocoPhillips and Mitsubishi Corp., filed a writ of mandate in Los Angeles County Superior Court that seeks an order to compel the Long Beach Harbor Board of Commissioners to direct its staff to complete an environmental impact report on the project.

The company charges that the commissioners violated California environmental laws by not completing a final report.

After years of consideration, the commissioners in January unanimously voted to end work on the environmental document.

Acting on the advice of Long Beach City Atty. Robert E. Shannon, the commissioners decided that the project faced insurmountable legal and safety issues.

Critics, including staff at the California Coastal Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission, say that a catastrophic accident at the proposed natural gas terminal would burn much of the harbor, one of the busiest in the nation, and the Long Beach waterfront.

But company officials contend that the risk of an accident is low and that the project could be safely operated.

The company says that the project would provide jobs and low-polluting fuel to help efforts to cut air pollution in the smoggy Los Angeles Basin.

"The Harbor Commission wrongly curtailed an established environmental review process that is designed to objectively evaluate the project on a comprehensive basis and provide the facts to government agencies and the public so they can make an informed decision," said Thomas E. Giles, chief executive officer of Sound Energy Solutions.

But opponents of the project said the applicant had run out of time.

"SES hasn't been able to complete the EIR satisfactorily," said Bry Myown, of Long Beach Citizens for Utility Reform.

"The Harbor Commission took a long look at the project and said no to it and now it should go away," Myown said.

A Port of Long Beach spokesman declined to comment, saying that port attorneys were reviewing the lawsuit.

Sound Energy Solutions seeks to build a plant to process 800 million cubic feet of gas daily on a 25-acre parcel in the harbor.

The gas would arrive as liquid shipped aboard tankers and would be warmed to vapor for use in power plants, businesses and residences across Southern California.

Four other LNG terminals are proposed off the Southern California coast, including two near Malibu and one near Ventura. Sempra Energy Co. is building another near Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico.

Many state and federal officials advocate the projects to provide more energy for California growth and to diversify energy sources.

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gary.polakovic@latimes.com

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