A Nov. 9 article incorrectly reported that the energy company Dominion plans to run liquefied natural gas in a pipeline through Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties. The gas in the pipeline is not liquefied. It is processed from liquid into vapor at the Cove Point terminal in Calvert before it is moved through the pipeline. (Published 11/18/04)
Standing in the middle of a bean field, Brian Ferguson surveyed his sprawling Calvert County farm and wondered where he went wrong. The 50-acre property, which has been in his family for half a century, seemed safe after he placed it in the county's land preservation program, which permanently restricts any development there.
"I thought no one would ever be able to build on my farm," he said.
But this summer, he learned that the Dominion energy company plans to run a 36-inch-wide liquefied natural gas pipeline beneath his soybean field and up past the farm's aging tobacco barn.
It turns out that despite the county's land preservation program, the utility might be able to seize part of the farm through eminent domain.
Farmers are outraged over the proposed pipeline route, which they fear will undermine the county's land preservation program. The 47-mile pipeline, which would stretch underground from the company's liquefied natural gas terminal in Cove Point through Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties, still requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Rather than follow the path of an existing pipeline, this route would swing away from the densely populated White Sands development and toward a dozen farms. The farmland is more attractive to Virginia-based Dominion, the farmers believe, because the property is less expensive than land in more developed areas.
"We made ourselves a prime target," said Michael Strider, 60, whose horse farm would be in the path of the pipeline. "Because we preserved this land, it has been deemed by this company ripe for development."
For farmers in Calvert, the fastest-growing county in the state, the pipeline is the latest threat to the rural life that has defined this part of Southern Maryland for centuries, said Susan D. Hance-Wells, a farmer and chairman of the county's agricultural preservation program.
"Over the past 20 years, we all feel like we're being pushed out by one thing or another: roads, developments and now this pipeline," she said. "This may not be the thing that pushes everybody out of business, but it is one more thing."
Dominion spokesman Daniel Donovan said an underground pipeline would not interfere with farmland. "Nobody will see this after we're done," he said. "They can farm right over it. I've been in cornfields in Pennsylvania that are right over pipelines." According to Dominion's Web site, the pipe would be buried a minimum of about three feet deep, or deeper in some locations.
Construction on the pipeline would likely interrupt at least one harvest, but Donovan said Dominion would reimburse farmers for lost revenue. Strider said he was also concerned about pumping stations or vents affecting his horses.
Others said they are worried about gas leaks or explosions. "Doubling the gas pipeline in our county is doubling our chances of being blown to bits," said Phyllis Johnson of Port Republic.
The project has won the support of the Calvert Board of County Commissioners, which has said it believes that the pipeline expansion -- coupled with a plan to double the capacity of Dominion's Cove Point natural gas plant -- will be a major economic boon.
The project would bring about $43 million into the Southern Maryland economy, according to a study by RESI, an economic consulting firm, and paid for by Dominion. The study says that the plan also would create 244 temporary jobs during the four years of construction on the project and 148 permanent jobs after. The project would also generate $16.7 million in annual tax payments to local and state governments.
Opponents of the pipeline route have pressed the commissioners to take a position against the path. They formed a group -- Concerned About Pipeline Expansion -- which has called on the county's elected officials to relay residents' concerns to the federal government.
But David F. Hale (R-Owings), president of the board of commissioners, said that the county will not oppose the route.
"I'm not sure that we have the expertise to say, 'This is a good pipeline route, and that isn't,' " he said. "I know that a pipeline being installed through your property is invasive. But the county has taken a position that this is good for Calvert County."
Strider, who moved to his Calvert farm from Martinsburg, W.Va., 10 years ago, said he worries that other farmers will be dissuaded from preserving their land.
"If you put your land in a farmland trust, what you are doing is actually making your land more attractive to put a pipeline through it," he said. "You wonder who we're preserving the farmland for -- the pipeline companies?"