Utility Defends Safety of Gas Storage Plan

A proposal to store liquefied natural gas at a plant in Prince George's County is cost-effective and critical to Washington Gas's ability to meet the region's growing demand for natural gas, utility officials said yesterday during a zoning hearing.

Washington Gas is seeking approval to use a 21-acre site it owns in Chillum, near the District border, to store 12 million gallons of liquefied gas.

Residents have voiced opposition to the plan, questioning how safe the plant would be in such a densely populated area. Imani Kazana, president of the Avondale Citizens Association, said yesterday that her house is about 500 feet from the site. "I would be right on the edge of the danger," she said.

Tim Sargeant, a Washington Gas spokesman, said 60 similar facilities operate safely in the United States, including a liquefied gas tank in Baltimore run by Baltimore Gas & Electric. The Chillum storage facility would be the first in the Washington region.

The county Planning Board rejected the proposal in September, saying it clashed with plans for high-density, pedestrian-oriented development around county Metro stations.

No decision was made yesterday by the zoning hearing examiner. The hearing is scheduled to continue Jan. 18.

Cars Exchange Gunfire in Oxon Hill Area

People in two moving cars shot at each other yesterday during the afternoon rush hour in the Oxon Hill area near the Capital Beltway and a stray bullet struck a third car, Prince George's County police said. The driver of the car was not injured.

Shortly before 5 p.m., people in a Toyota Corolla and Honda Accord were traveling in the 6000 block of Livingston Road and shooting at each other when the bullet hit a Mercedes-Benz, said Cpl. Kim Brown, a police spokeswoman.

The driver of the Mercedes phoned police, who impounded her car as evidence, Brown said. Police were searching last night for the people in the two other cars.

Brown said it was unclear whether anyone was hit in the exchange of bullets, but area hospitals had admitted no gunshot victims as of late yesterday.

In Reversal, Meade High to Get IB Program

Anne Arundel County school board members yesterday unanimously approved expansion of the college-preparatory International Baccalaureate program into Meade High School, answering pleas from the Fort Meade and National Security Agency communities for stronger academic offerings in local schools.

Two months ago, the board rejected placing the IB curriculum at Meade, but it changed course after hearing broad parental support for the advanced academic program and seeing a somewhat scaled-back version of the expansion plan.

Meade will join Old Mill and Annapolis high schools in offering the program in the county.

Two Die in Accidents in Prince George's

Two men died yesterday in separate early-morning traffic accidents in Prince George's County, one in Oxon Hill and one in Clinton. Speed was a factor in both crashes, according to police.

The first accident took place about 3:15 a.m. at Indian Head Highway and Kirby Road. Joseph Kahoe III, 30, of Woodbridge lost control of his white Chevrolet Caprice and crashed into an oncoming tractor-trailer before flipping over, police said. Kahoe was pronounced dead at the scene. A 19-year-old passenger survived.

The second accident happened about 6 a.m. in the 3100 block of Steed Road in Clinton. Leon Brown, 21, of Clinton crossed the yellow lines to pass a car, police said. His red Acura Integra crashed head-on into a sport-utility vehicle, police said, and the car caught fire. Brown was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the other vehicle was taken to a hospital.


4 Toll Road Privatization Plans Advance

The Virginia Department of Transportation yesterday moved forward four proposals to privatize the Dulles Toll Road.

State officials advanced proposals put forth by Macquarie Infrastructure Group, Autostrade, John Laing and IIG; Cintra USA Corp.; Franklin L. Haney Co.; and Transurban and Goldman Sachs. The agency determined that a fifth proposal, by Virginia Mobility Associates, did not merit further review.

The next step is for the state to name a panel of transportation experts to review the four proposals and recommend one or more for final consideration. The panel will be named in the next two months, and its review could take as long as a year.

VDOT said each of the groups would pay about $1 billion to operate, maintain and collect tolls on the Dulles Toll Road for 50 years. The groups also propose making improvements to the road, its entry and exit ramps and its tollbooths.


City Closes Katrina Help Center

The city's walk-in center for Hurricane Katrina evacuees closed yesterday, the Department of Human Services announced.

The city opened the center in October on the campus of D.C. General Hospital in Southeast as it was preparing to close a shelter for hurricane survivors at the D.C. Armory. Since then, use of the center has dwindled as evacuees have found housing and jobs and received help from caseworkers on an individual basis, officials said.

Hurricane evacuees looking for more information about city services can contact the department's Strong Families Division at 202-576-3282 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For housing information, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's housing locator service can be reached at 800-762-8740; TTY 800-462-7585, between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

For other forms of assistance, evacuees can call FEMA's help line at 800-621-FEMA or TTY 800-462-7585.


Dulles to Open a Waiting Parking Lot

Dulles International Airport officials have designated a parking lot about 11/2 miles from the terminal for drivers with cell phones to wait for up to an hour for passengers to call them to be picked up. Signs on airport roads will direct motorists to the waiting area and the terminal.

The area was created by improving an unused parking lot at Rudder Road and Autopilot Drive.

The lot, which will be free, is to open Dec. 21. It will be available only to noncommercial vehicles.

"Short of crawling inside her abdomen, I don't think you can get any better timing."

-- Reproductive scientist JoGayle Howard on the techniques that were used to determine when the National Zoo's female panda, Mei Xiang, was ready for artificial insemination. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Karlyn Barker, Allan Lengel, Daniel de Vise, Allison Klein, Theola Labbe and Ovetta Wiggins.