Opponents of a proposed 47-mile natural gas pipeline across Southern Maryland have asked the Calvert County commissioners to take a stance against the project -- something they are not inclined to do.
"This is when we need you the most," said Brian Ferguson, a St. Leonard resident whose property lies in the path of the proposed pipeline. "Ensure that our interests have a voice."
Ferguson was one of more than a dozen people who attended Tuesday's commissioners meeting to express opposition to the Dominion energy company plan to extend a second pipeline from its Cove Point liquefied natural gas terminal through Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties.
Opponents said the commissioners should be more active in the pipeline approval process that is conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
"The Board of County Commissioners should become involved immediately in the FERC process," said Michael Oritt of St. Leonard, a member of Concerns About Pipeline Expansion, a group formed by residents worried about the project. "It will probably be this commission's legacy to the future."
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) said the county would continue its involvement in the process, but she said the commissioners would not oppose the project.
"It's not Calvert County's role to determine what the path of the pipeline is," she said. "That's FERC's role."
Any concerns about the pipeline violating county regulations would be addressed later when Dominion submits applications for permits from the county, Shaw said.
Opponents have submitted a litany of concerns about the proposed project.
Phyllis Johnson said she is concerned that the pipeline expansion will increase the risk of terrorism or of accidents caused by corrosion of the pipe and human error.
"Doubling the gas pipeline in our county is doubling our chances of being blown to bits," said Johnson, of Port Republic. "Doubling these dangerous structures should constitute unlawful excessive endangerment to the residents of this county."
Dominion spokesman Dan Donovan said such fears are unfounded because pipelines are the safest form of energy transport.
Several residents expressed concern about the environmental impact of the project, particularly where it crosses St. Leonard Creek, the largest tributary in the county. A swath of land 50 feet wide will be permanently cleared above the pipeline over its entire path, including through heavily wooded areas, Donovan said.
"Every time you dice up the forest you fundamentally alter the species balance," said George Stewart "Stovy" Brown, a St. Leonard resident. "We don't want the environment chewed up."
Donovan said clearing land above the pipeline would not harm the environment. "It will be green grass," he said. "It looks nice."
County officials said the pipeline -- coupled with a plan to double the capacity of Dominion's Cove Point natural gas plant -- will be a major economic boon to the region.
The entire project will infuse $42.8 million into the Southern Maryland economy, according to a study by RESI, an economic consulting firm. The study, paid for by Virginia-based Dominion, said the plan will also create 244 temporary jobs during the four years of construction on the project and 148 permanent jobs afterward.
Tax revenue to the region would also be significant, the study found. The project would generate $16.7 million in annual tax payments to local and state governments after construction is completed.
Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said the project is good for the county, though he sympathizes with opponents of the pipeline.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if it's coming through your yard, you're going to be upset," he said. "But the county government has to look after 85,000 citizens, not just these people."