U.S. attorney asked to stop LNG project

Opponents' lawyer says facility would violate U.S.-Beth Steel cleanup agreement of 1998

July 14, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Saying that construction of a liquefied natural gas facility at Sparrows Point would violate an agreement that requires the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard to be cleaned up, a lawyer for Baltimore County residents opposed to the LNG terminal is asking the U.S. attorney to stop the project.

A 1998 consent decree between the federal government and the defunct steel giant requires that owners of the 250-acre Sparrows Point property continue cleanup efforts and prohibits activities that could cause more environmental problems, lawyer Bart S. Fisher wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

Fisher contends that the proposed LNG terminal would violate the terms of the 1998 agreement because the project requires dredging the Patapsco River to accommodate tankers carrying shipments of the fuel. Dredging, Fisher contends, would disturb toxic substances settled deep in the muck.

The lawyer also says that the process of turning the liquid back into natural gas would release industrial toxins into the air, also prohibited by the 1998 agreement and by regulations for federal Superfund sites.

Vickie E. LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland, said that the office doesn't comment on correspondence, as a matter of policy.

Kent Morton, Sparrows Point project manager for the global power supply company that wants to build the LNG plant, said the project would not violate the 1998 agreement.

"Our understanding is that the shipyard was removed from the consent decree," Morton said.

AES Corp. wants to process LNG -- super-chilled natural gas -- at the old Sparrows Point shipyard. The Arlington, Va., company has proposed building a $400 million shipping terminal and processing plant on a 60-acre plot near the Key Bridge.

AES' plans also call for construction of an 87-mile natural gas pipeline -- at a cost of $200 million to $250 million -- from Sparrows Point through Harford County to southern Pennsylvania.

For months, residents and elected officials have been opposing the LNG project, saying it would harm the environment, create a terrorist target and negatively affect the economy and quality of life.

"They're valid concerns," said Fisher. "But the project can't go forward on legal grounds. The whole thing has to stop."

In his July 12 letter, Fisher also alleges that the current owner of the property, Barletta Willis, is tearing out bulkheads that contain asbestos and contaminated wood to build a ship- repair facility -- work that Fisher says also violates the 1998 agreement.

Officials at Barletta Willis did not return phone calls yesterday.

County inspectors went to the Barletta Willis site yesterday, prepared to issue a stop-work order, said Donald I. Mohler, a county spokesman. They didn't find work being done, but, he said, the county "put the company on notice" that it needed permits before removing piers.

The county also denied a request by AES for access to county easements along its proposed pipeline for survey work. "The county executive is opposed to this project," Mohler said. "We're not going to do anything to facilitate it moving forward."

Fisher's letter to Rosenstein, Maryland's top federal prosecutor, is the latest attempt to stop the project by residents and elected officials who oppose it.

Last month, the Baltimore County Council approved a ban on liquefied natural gas facilities within 5 miles of homes -- a measure designed to, if nothing else, delay construction of the LNG plant at Sparrows Point, which would be built less than 1 1/2 miles from the nearest homes in the historically black neighborhood of Turners Station.

Fisher, on behalf of Dundalk-area residents opposed to the LNG facility, is calling upon Rosenstein to join other Maryland officials, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, in opposing the project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decides what LNG projects are built in the United States. It is currently reviewing AES' preliminary plans, though the commission will not decide whether or not the AES project can move forward until later this year, after the company files a formal application.

The federal agency held public hearings last month on the proposed project.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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