Council, Police Caught Off-Guard By LPG Shipment

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Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The police chief and several members of the City Council aren’t happy that a tanker containing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) arrived last month at the Port of Providence without a security escort.

“We were all caught off-guard in that most of my career when there has been a large shipment of LNG/LPG into the city of Providence and into the Port of Providence there has been a huge footprint of security from the Providence police,” police chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said at the Jan. 27 meeting of the Committee on Ordinances.

Council member James Taylor, a former firefighter, said that between 2002 and 2014 arriving LPG tankers required an escort by the Fire Department and a police special response unit made up of rifle teams onshore and in police boats.

After a five-year absence, LPG shipments resumed in late 2019, when a new tenant arrived at ProvPort’s LPG terminal, but without a significant security detail.

”However, the level of threat has not changed since 2002 and has always been what it is,” Taylor said.

The LPG terminal, owned by ProvPort, began receiving LPG shipments in 1971. The previous fossil-fuel transport company, Teppco Partners LP, ceased operations in 2016. The new tenant, Sea-3 Providence LLC, a subsidiary of Texas-based Blackline Partners, signed a long-term lease in 2018 to operate the terminal.

Clements said a consultant hired by Sea-3 downgraded the Coast Guard threat assessment to a level that doesn’t require a police detail when tankers arrive. Clements said the Coast Guard signed off on the security assessment and the shipments arrived in late December with only an escort by a Coast Guard vessel.

Clements said ports in New York City and Boston require beefed-up security details when similarly sized LPG shipments arrive. He noted that the risk level for an accident in Providence is heightened by the presence of nearby chemical facilities, the state’s primary hospital, and residential neighborhoods.

“I think we need to be concerned for the city of Providence, and this capital city Police Department has always taken great interest in the protection of the port,” Clements said.

Neighborhood groups, such as the Washington Park Neighborhood Association and the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, have opposed the return of LPG tankers because of safety and health concerns caused by increased truck traffic and air pollution.

An enhanced security requirement for LPG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments was added to an existing city ordinance. The rule change was endorsed by Clements, Taylor, and council members Nicholas J. Narducci Jr., Pedro Espinal, David A. Salvatore, and Jo-Ann Ryan, chair of the Committee on Ordinances. Espinal sponsored the rule change.

They all agreed that the shipping company should pay for the security details.

Narducci said “shame on us” for not having the proper security detail in place when the new shipments began. He said you don’t want to look back after an accident knowing what could have been done to prevent it.

Clements said the Police Department performs terrorism risk assessments of the port with federal agencies.

“Don’t think for a second that bad guys don’t pay attention when there is a big (security) presence and when there is no presence and when they have an opportunity (to strike),” he said.

The committee approved sending the ordinance to the City Council for a final vote. The legal department will fist review whether the city can require the shipping company to pay for the security detail.

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