The Calvert Board of County Commissioners has endorsed a 47-mile natural gas pipeline through Southern Maryland that opponents say will harm the environment and undermine land preservation efforts.
The commissioners urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week to approve a 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.
"It is true that Cove Point is our second-largest taxpayer, and we have a vested interest in their success," the five commissioners wrote in a letter to the energy commission Tuesday, "but Cove Point is more than just a large taxpayer and employer, they are a proven community member with a remarkable safety record, and a steward of our environment."
The commissioners' endorsement came on the same day that the energy agency conducted a public forum on the pipeline. The Tuesday evening session in Solomons drew a standing-room-only crowd to a meeting room that had been set up to accommodate 200.
At the commissioners meeting earlier Tuesday, a group opposed to the proposed pipeline route -- Concerns About Pipeline Expansion -- said Dominion's suggested path would be disastrous for the county. Michael Oritt, a spokesman for the group, told the commissioners that the pipeline would harm creeks, streams and wetlands; disturb farms that should be protected under land preservation programs; and clear cut forests.
Oritt also criticized the commissioners and suggested that they should be "setting the agenda rather than having it set by Dominion."
"We have done what the board has not," said Oritt, a St. Leonard resident whose property would be crossed by the pipeline. "We have identified several alternative routes through Calvert County that will permit Dominion to expand its facility if that need is justified to FERC."
The group presented a map to the commissioners that depicted alternate routes. Oritt said the new pipeline could travel alongside the existing pipeline that it would supplement, follow Route 2/4 or run along Constellation Energy's electrical power line corridor.
Oritt said the group sent photographs to the county's Planning and Zoning Department to "show that there is ample space along our proposed routes in these already established corridors."
Daniel Donovan, a spokesman for Virginia-based Dominion, said he could not comment on the group's proposals because he had not seen them. But he said Dominion will carefully review all suggestions for alternate pipeline routes.
"Our goal is to come up with a route that everybody seems to think is the best route," he said. "If, at the end, the best route is the one that they propose, more power to them."
The county would receive an economic windfall from the pipeline expansion and a related plan to double the capacity of Dominion's Cove Point natural gas plant.
According to a study by RESI, an economic consulting firm, the project would bring about $43 million into the Southern Maryland economy. The study, paid for by Dominion, said the plan also would create 244 temporary jobs during the four years of construction and 148 permanent jobs afterward. The project would also generate $16.7 million in annual tax payments to local and state governments.
But opponents of the pipeline route said the project's harm to the environment and agricultural preservation programs would outweigh any financial benefits.
The commissioners asked the federal energy agency to take those concerns into account, but they also stressed the importance of keeping the pipeline away from densely populated areas.
"In order to address safety concerns, the most effective way to avoid residential structures is to route the pipeline through agriculturally preserved land," they wrote.