O'Malley enters battle against gas depot plan

Proposed Sparrows Point terminal called `potential bomb' by mayor

August 11, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Calling a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Sparrows Point a "potential bomb" on the doorstep of Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley injected himself yesterday into one of Baltimore County's most controversial - and now political - land-use fights.

O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, joined a group of residents and local officials at a Dundalk community center to offer his opposition to the terminal, which has been proposed by Arlington, Va.-based AES Corp. on the site of a former shipyard.

Debate over the site has been compounded by the role played by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personal lawyer, David B. Hamilton. Last month, Common Cause of Maryland asked the Maryland State Ethics Commission to investigate whether Hamilton had lobbied for companies involved in the project without registering as a lobbyist, as required by state and county law.

Yesterday's news conference focused mainly on community opposition to the $400 million terminal, which would receive shipments of super-chilled liquefied gas by tanker and then pump the natural gas through an 87-mile pipeline to Baltimore and to a distribution center in Pennsylvania.

"We have the power to stop this project," O'Malley said at the event, which also included Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., both Democrats. "This LNG facility will not happen here."

O'Malley sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on June 28 that called the proposed terminal - and the ships that would move to and from the terminal - a potential terrorist target that, if attacked, could have a disastrous impact on Baltimore. The commission acknowledged receipt of the letter Aug. 3 and said it would include O'Malley's statements in its public file.

"From the very first moment, we recognized that an LNG terminal at Sparrows Point would be one big mistake," said Smith. "We all have too much invested in Dundalk's renaissance to let this happen."

Hamilton drew attention this year when he met with legislators and other state officials in a successful effort to get a $150,000 grant for the dredging necessary to construct the terminal. In addition to Common Cause, the LNG Opposition Team, which is part of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, a community group, also filed an ethics complaint against Hamilton.

In the past, Hamilton told The Washington Post that he obeys state ethics laws and acts only as a lawyer, not a lobbyist. The surrounding area has strongly backed Ehrlich in political races.

"The governor has publicly opposed any LNG facility in that community months ago. He has worked aggressively since then to ensure that the facility is not put there," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich. "The governor's position is uncompromising. Martin O'Malley's political stunt offers nothing to the equation."

Zack Germroth, a spokesman for AES, said the company hopes the project will be successful. He said the company expects demand for natural gas to increase 25 percent in the next two decades and that the terminal could help reduce the price of natural gas in the Mid-Atlantic region.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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