Cove Point plant project panned at hearing

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Cove Point plant project panned at hearing

Prince Frederick, MD - 10/30/2013

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By Marty Madden

The Tuesday evening, Oct. 29 joint public hearing of the Calvert County Commissioners and Calvert County Planning Commission attracted a sizable crowd to weigh in on a controversial project. The session was not specifically held for such a discussion—the panels were discussing two text amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance—however, since one of the proposals would impact the proposed expansion at Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant in Lusby, opponents seized the opportunity to comment on the plan. Many also took the opportunity to criticize the county commissioners for their unabashed support of the multi-billion dollar expansion plan that would give the facility the capability to export LNG. The project is still in the preliminary stage, with several permits yet to be obtained.

 According to a joint memo from Department of Planning and Building Deputy Director Mary Beth Cook and Inspections and Permits Division Chief Joseph Hawxhurst, the amendment “proposes to provide an exemption for liquid natural gas import or export facilities from the requirements of the [zoning] ordinance.” An exemption for such facilities was also proposed as an amendment to the International Building Code.

Earlier in the day, the county commissioners received an update on the expansion project from Dominion’s Mark Reaser, who reported the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) continues to prepare an environmental assessment on the expansion plan. Once the assessment is issued there will be a 30-day comment period, said Reaser. Another project hurdle will be attaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC).

Reaser also reported the on-site export equipment “will be no taller than the existing tanks.” He indicated a “sound wall” will be built along Cove Point Road to mitigate noise. Reaser also reported “60 percent of the unions’ workers” who will be employed during the construction phase live in Calvert County and the other Southern Maryland counties. “They are very excited about this project,” Reaser said.

Several commissioners spoke about “misinformation” and “rumors” that have been spread about the export project.

“There’s no point in lobbying this board about a decision to be made by FERC,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw [R], who lamented “a lot of environmental misinformation. I think the benefits of this project are going to outweigh the effects.”

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R] said among the rumors he has heard is that Dominion’s temporary pier in Solomons will disrupt the activities of area watermen. Clark said he spoke with officials from the local Watermen’s Association about the Dominion project. “They are in complete agreement,” said Clark.

At the evening public hearing, nearly 300 people packed the Calvert Pines Senior Center auditorium and a majority of the 40 speakers indicated either opposition to the expansion plan or opposition to the county yielding its zoning authority to the federal government.

“Taking the county out of the loop, how is that good government?” Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman asked.

“No one really knows the ramifications,” said Cove of Calvert resident Jean Marie Neal, who added “a truly independent entity” was needed to conduct the environmental review. “This was a rushed, ill-conceived proposal.”

Kelly Canavan said the zoning amendments were “clearly written for Dominion,” labeled it “spot-zoning” and therefore ‘illegal.” Canavan said FERC did not have the expertise to consider the quality of life issues impacted by the project. Canavan, also stated the Maryland Critical Area Commission had just learned about the Dominion expansion project, a contention Clark, a commission member strongly denounced later during the hearing. “The Critical Area Commission has been involved in this project for two years,” said Clark.

“No one should be comfortable with the abdication of a moral responsibility,” said Todd Porter of Prince Frederick of the proposed zoning change. Of Dominion, Porter said, “I don’t trust them.”

“It’s not a time to roll over,” said Ann Parran Sledge of Drum Point. “We’re letting the devil in the back door. We are basically sitting ducks if something goes awry.’

The environmental concerns expressed by many who are wary of Dominion’s expansion plan include additional emissions, the impacts of more ships docking at the plant’s offshore pier, the potential for an explosion, the plant’s need for large volumes of water for cooling during the export process and the possible expansion of a controversial hydraulic drilling process called “fracking.”

Other concerns include traffic during the construction, terrorism risks and noise.

“I’m concerned about my life and family,” said Tracy Eno, who explained Cove Point Road is the only way out for her it a disaster occurs at the LNG plant.

Minh Vu said she never would have purchased her Drum Point home if she had known about the Cove Point LNG expansion project. Vu said the commissioners should do their own cost analysis on the project instead of relying on Dominion’s data.

Of those voicing support, Steve Cressoh called the planned project “a construction worker’s dream.”

Several in the audience booed when planning commission member Malcolm Funn said those concerned about the expansion plan needed to take their concerns to federal agencies. “You don’t give up something you never had in the first place,” said Funn.

Five members of the planning commission—vice chairman Mike Phipps and member William Glascock recused themselves from voting—then considered a motion by commission member Robert Reed to recommend the submitted text to the county commissioners for approval. The vote was 4-to-1 with commission member Roxanne Riddle Cumberland voting opposed.

The county commissioners then voted 4-to-1 to close the record and accept the planning commission’s recommendation to approve the text amendment. Commissioner Steven R. Weems [R] voted opposed. Weems explained he wanted the public record to stay open for an additional seven days. He sustained his opposition when the board voted to approve the change to the building code.

Earlier in the day, Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R] urged Dominion officials to “communicate, communicate, communicate. I want your project to be successful.” Slaughenhoupt called Dominion “a good neighbor.”

After the commissioners voted to approve the text amendment, Slaughenhoupt suggested Dominion officials “need to be more proactive. I don’t think these citizens are as informed as they should be.”

That prompted a few catcalls and cries of “shame on you” from hundreds of citizens who left dismayed that their numbers did not hold sway.

Earlier in the day Reaser announced Dominion would be holding an open house later this fall to discuss the expansion project with the public.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com



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