As the Dominion energy company begins work to survey the route of a proposed 47-mile natural gas pipeline through Calvert, Prince George's and Charles counties, most property owners have given crews permission to enter their land. But some residents have barred surveyors from their property, despite the company's threats of legal action.
Those who refused permission for the survey work received a follow-up letter from Dominion informing them "that Maryland recognizes the importance of survey access in the planning of public pipeline projects such as this one." The letter says state code "specifies that, upon written notification, entry onto lands to survey is allowed as a matter of law."
The residents were also informed that the letter constituted "such required notice."
"They're trying to intimidate us and scare us," said Brenda Beard, who received the letter after refusing Dominion survey crews access to her property in White Plains.
Dominion has not taken legal action against any property owner yet, said Dan Donovan, a company spokesman. The company, he said, has simply asked permission to do the survey work, which involves the placing of flags and not "digging up anybody's yard."
Dominion has received permission from the owners of 507 tracts along the pipeline route, Donovan said. Owners of 35 properties have not allowed the company to do the surveying, Donovan said.
"We're planning on working as closely as we can with the landowners," he said.
The company, Donovan added, could get "court-sponsored permission to survey," though it has not taken that step yet.
Although Dominion has sought to reassure residents that consenting to allow survey work "does not mean you are allowing access for construction of the pipeline," some residents rebuffed the company because of concern about the firm's long-range plans.
Beard said she wants to protect her seven-acre property in White Plains for the possibility of building guesthouses for her two grown children -- a project the family plans to start in three years when her husband, a plumbing foreman, retires. When the agent from Universal Field Services Inc., a surveying firm hired by Dominion, showed up at her house late last month asking for her signature to allow the surveying process for the pipeline that would run adjacent to her property, she refused.
"I told him I will call the cops if he brings anyone out to survey, and they will haul him away," she said.
After their refusal, the Beards received the follow-up letter from Dominion, which also described the surveying process. The survey crew would flag the anticipated right of way as well as study the route for "any historical or archeological significance, endangered species, soil types, and other environmental conditions," the letter said.
"During this process, there may be very minor earth disturbance during the search for historical artifacts," the letter said.
The company added, "Although we expect no damage to your property, Dominion will reimburse you for any reasonable damages caused by the survey process."
Beard was not assuaged. She said that the pipeline would "disrupt our way of life, our peaceful enjoyment of our property" and that "it violates our rights."
Warren Moore Sr., 86, a retired farmer who lives near the Beards said he also refused permission to survey on his 170 acres.
"I don't want a pipeline on this property. The gas that goes through it is so dangerous -- that's the main thing," he said. "If something happens to the line that causes a leak, then you'd have to evacuate. You couldn't stay anywhere close by."
The Charles County Department of Planning and Growth Management, which is working with the company on the permit process, does not get involved with issues of property owner rights, said planner Kevin Vienneau.
"We don't regulate that," he said.
Vienneau said that Dominion had not yet acquired the necessary permits and that there were potential issues of concern about the impact on non-tidal wetlands and streams, including Mattawoman Creek, the Zekiah Swamp and the Jordan Swamp Run.
The proposed pipeline is part of a major expansion plan involving Dominion's Cove Point gas plant in Calvert County. Tanker shipments of liquefied natural gas arriving at the Cove Point plant on the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County would increase under plans being presented to local residents. Additional tanks would nearly double storage capacity at the southern Calvert facility, according to a previous announcement from the company.
Dominion must formally submit its expansion plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval, Donovan said. The surveying work is being done to help Dominion with that plan, which will be filed at the end of summer or early fall, he said.
"We have to take a proposed route to FERC when we file for permission to build the pipeline," Donovan said.
Dominion has been presenting its expansion plans in informal meetings with local residents. The application to FERC will begin a formal hearing process similar to the one in 2001 when the Cove Point plant's former owner, Williams Co., first took steps to reactivate the facility and resume LNG shipments to the offshore terminal that had been idle for 20 years. That plan drew opposition from residents who raised security concerns about LNG tanker traffic on the bay.
The Cove Point plant stopped importing LNG in December 1980 because of falling domestic natural gas prices and a dispute with exporters from Algeria, the prime source of the product then. In 1994, the onshore facilities were reopened to provide a natural gas storage service.
In 2002, Williams Co. sold the plant to Dominion, which decided to carry on with the $180 million expansion plan, which included adding a fifth storage tank. Increased demand for the fuel has prompted Dominion to expand the plant again, Donovan said. The expansion project should be finished by 2008, with the pipeline not being laid until 2007, according to Donovan.
A preliminary plan calls for the new pipeline to travel along the existing route, from Calvert, then briefly through the southern tip of Prince George's, before continuing on through northern Charles County.