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Continuation hearing yields mostly opposition to gas plant

Cody Hance of St. Mary's County
St. Mary's County resident Cody Hance expressed dismay that additional carcinogens will pollute the air when Dominion Energy Cove Point LNG Plant's liquefaction unit begins operating.

Lusby, MD - An unusual move by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to allow individuals who did not get an opportunity to speak at a hearing earlier this month a second opportunity resulted in mostly negative comments about a huge, nearly completed construction project. The hearing was to obtain input about Dominion Energy Cove Point’s (DECP) request to amend certain conditions of its existing certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to remove volatile organic compound (VOC) limits for piping and equipment components of the soon-to-be-finished liquefaction unit. The $3.8 billion project, which will give Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant in Lusby the capability of exporting natural gas, has polarized the community since it was first proposed over six years ago. In addition to obtaining the CPCN from the PSC, Dominion was also granted permission to commence with the project in the fall of 2014 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Dominion officials contend that the requested amendment of the CPCN is not asking permission to emit more pollution into the air.

At the original hearing—held Monday evening, Oct. 2 at Patuxent High School, 17 individuals who were signed up to speak were not allowed to make comments since the meeting ran slightly past 9 p.m. Deputies from the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office announced at that time that the building would be closing due to school system regulations. Attendees upset by the declaration verbally requested a second hearing, a request Judge Terry Romine—who presided over the hearing—stated would be taken into consideration. Later in the week Romine announced the additional hearing would occur Thursday evening, Oct. 19 at Mill Creek Middle School (MCMS). In addition to the 17 who had signed up but who were not given the chance to speak, any other person who did not speak at the Oct. 2 hearing could sign up.

The MCMS cafetorium was about three-quarters full when the session commenced. There were a few moments of emotion during the two-and-a-half hour hearing, although nothing as strident as the Oct. 2 hearing. Lusby resident Jeff Dixon, who lives near the plant sought self-composure as he declared, “the modifications will make our air worse.”

Another project opponent, James Schultz admitted “I’ve been on both sides of this. We need more information. We need more study. I don’t understand why this county has to be the place.”

Cody Hance, a Calvert County native who now lives in St. Mary’s, expressed dismay that a region with an already high cancer mortality rate would now permit such a potential large polluter. “I can’t understand why Dominion would be allowed to put carcinogen into the air,” said Hance, who added three members of his family have died of cancer in the past decade. “It’s not a common sense thing.”

Of those who spoke in favor of the application, trade union member Michael Chapman raised the most hackles among the project foes when he spoke about how his “brothers” who have worked on the massive project have spent their earnings at area stories and have bolstered the economy. “We all benefit from the Cove Point project,” Chapman declared. Addressing the plant opponents, Chapman asked, “if it [plant] is dangerous, why are you still here?” That prompted a woman in the audience to rise and shout at the speaker. The woman then stormed out of the cafetorium.

Later, Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien reaffirmed that the company’s original CPCN application was based on the best numbers available at the time. Dominion Energy will implement the Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) program rather than the numeric VOC limit to control fugitive emissions. “Even the potential of the leaks are within the limits,” Neddenien said.

The entire PSC will meet in Baltimore Nov. 15 with the Dominion Energy Cove Point amendment request as one of several agenda items. Romine told members of the public and press the meeting would be streamed live on the Internet via www.psc.state.md.us

Meanwhile, members of the opposition group We Are Cove Point have indicated they will continue to lobby Governor Larry Hogan, requesting that a quantitative risk assessment be conducted by an independent agency before Dominion is allowed to start up their liquefaction unit. So far Hogan has indicated he has no intention to order the assessment.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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