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Rio Grande Valley residents assembled on South Padre Island to protest proposals for an LNG plant at the Port of Brownsville. (Photo courtesy of Stefanie Herweck).

Last Tuesday, Annova, one of the five companies proposing liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals at the Port of Brownsville, made its sales pitch to Rio Grande Valley citizens at an open house.

There were smiling spokespeople and slick, feel-good posters, but they left a lot out.

Among Annova’s displays there were no photos, not even a satellite image, of the 650 acres of land that they have leased for the project. Visitors were not shown the dense green thornforest and beautiful coastal prairie of the Loma Ecological Preserve that they want to pave over. The Preserve consists of more than 5,000 acres managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife; in 2013 the Brownsville Navigation District pulled 650 acres from Fish and Wildlife’s lease and made it available for Annova.

The preserve’s many lomas, dunes of blown clay rising above the salt flats and prairie, have been called “miniature Galapagos Islands” (Richard C. Bartlett: Saving the Best of Texas, University of Texas Press, 1995.) and are critical wildlife habitat. In 1998 a radio-collared ocelot was documented on the land that Annova is now leasing, as it crossed the ship channel traveling north.

The channel presents no obstacle to the endangered cats, but the barren ground, bright lights and noise of the LNG plant will prevent them from moving back and forth between the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The facility would be a stake through the heart of the wildlife corridor. It is the worst possible place for heavy industry.

The Annova LNG also site contains numerous wetlands that will be filled in, and these have both an ecological and a monetary value for our coastal community. An estimated 95 percent of the recreational and commercial catch of fish, oysters, shrimp, and crab use our coastal wetlands during some part of their life cycle. Wetlands also act as shoreline buffers and prevent coastal erosion.

The LNG plant would also be directly across the channel from the Bahia Grande, the largest wetlands restoration project in North America. Annova plans to dredge a turning basin and widen the ship channel in front of the Bahia Grande Restoration Channel. Dredging increases turbidity in the delicately balanced estuary and can stir up toxic sediments.

At the open house Annova also failed to inform people about the emissions associated with compressing, refining and liquefying natural gas.

None of their posters or fact sheets spelled out the chemicals that would be emitted or the expected quantities, which would be significant. When asked what chemicals would be used in the refrigeration process, essentially the heart of the operation where the gas is cooled into a liquid, Annova’s Project Manager said that information was “proprietary.” He said that the public would never be told what chemicals were used.

That secrecy makes it next to impossible for the public to know what hazards they face if they live (and breathe) nearby, or downwind in Port Isabel or South Padre Island.

In refusing to tell their neighbors what potentially hazardous chemicals they are using Annova is asking the public to trust them. The problem with that is that Annova LNG is owned by Exelon, a company that owns and operates a number of nuclear power plants, including the notorious Three Mile Island. In 2006 it was revealed that Exelon had failed to report multiple instances of radioactive tritium leaking into the groundwater during a decade of operating the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station in Illinois. In 2010 they paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits arising from over two dozen leaks of tritium at three Illinois nuclear power plants. Theirs is not a track record that inspires trust.

The numbers that Annova did promote on their posters were all about jobs, jobs, jobs. But the Ernst and Young analyst who generated those numbers admitted that they had not looked at the impacts of a visible and polluting industrial site on important local economic drivers such as commercial fishing, shrimping, and beach and nature tourism.

Thousands of jobs here in the Rio Grande Valley depend on clean air, clean water and high quality fish and wildlife habitat. The lights and fiery flare stack will light up the sky within sight of South Padre Island’s beachfront hotels and condos, and smog-producing emissions will foul the air. Those are not the sights and smells that draw tourists.

Those potential job losses will not be offset by tax payments from Annova. While their parent company has opposed the Federal Wind Production Tax Credit, saying that, “Exelon has long believed that there is no need to promote subsidies for proven technologies,” Annova LNG has asked the Cameron County Commission for a ten-year tax abatement. All profits would therefore go to distant shareholders instead of local schools, fire departments and roads.

On its sales pitch posters Annova made sure to put its projected job numbers in the largest font possible, but we need to read the fine print before we buy what they’re selling. For those jobs we are being asked to trade irreplaceable natural habitats, priceless clean air and water, and valuable existing economies that enhance our health and quality of life instead of degrade it the way LNG certainly would.

Editor’s Note: We have given Annova an opportunity to state the case for an LNG terminal at the Port of Brownsville. We will post this as soon as we receive it.