Group opposes plan for liquefied gas facility

It calls Sparrows Point project an environmental hazard and urges state legislators not to issue permits

January 05, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

In its final report to Maryland legislators, a group studying a proposed liquefied natural gas facility on Sparrows Point is recommending that state officials urge federal regulators to deny approval for the project based on environmental and safety concerns.

The panel also recommends that the state not issue any permits that would allow the project to move forward, according to the report, which was finalized yesterday.

But it remains unclear whether state officials have the authority to stop the widely criticized project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decides where LNG facilities can be located.

"I don't know that the legislators can do anything directly to stop this project," said Joel Baker, co-chairman of the task force appointed by Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and members of the state Senate and House of Delegates to study the LNG proposal.

But, Baker said, "I think that Maryland can regulate water quality and its coastal zone management plan and to that extent can influence the process."

Whether a federal agency could override a denial by the state of a permit for the project remains "untested legal territory," Baker said after the final Task Force meeting yesterday.

The LNG project proposed by AES Corp., a Virginia-based power supply company, calls for dredging in the Patapsco River to accommodate the overseas tankers that would unload the liquefied natural gas at the terminal, where the liquid would be returned to gas and pumped through a 87-mile pipeline from Sparrows Point to southern Pennsylvania for distribution. The company is proposing to recycle the dredge spoils.

Maryland's Department of the Environment and Board of Public Works, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, approve dredging work.

LNG projects are often opposed by local communities and state officials. But, a spokeswoman for FERC, Tamara Young-Allen, said she didn't know of any state stopping a LNG project approved by the commission.

In Maryland's LNG task force report, the panel recommends that state officials advise FERC that Baltimore County emergency officials have said they have no way of notifying residents who live near the proposed facility about possible emergencies and they aren't equipped to respond to a major accident and evacuate the residents in the area.

The group, in its final analysis, also says that the county, with state help, should create a master plan for the development of Sparrows Point. And they recommend that the state attorney general issue a legal opinion about processing dredge materials at the site before allowing the work.

The task force's final report will be forwarded to the governor and other elected officials next week.

Sen. Norman K. Stone, a Dundalk Democrat, said he is planning to introduce legislation to prohibit any more dredging in the Sparrows Point area. The owners of the shipyard have a permit and are in the midst of "maintenance" dredging.

Kent Morton, the Sparrows Point LNG project manager for AES, said yesterday that he believes the project will receive approval by FERC and that the company will receive the necessary permits from the state.

"I think we've addressed all the issues," Morton said. "If we follow the law and all procedures, we will be granted a permit. The state has the same obligation."

Morton listened yesterday as the panel discussed its recommendations. He said he disagreed with the group's finding that the project wouldn't have a positive effect on the economy.

If built, Morton estimated that the LNG facility would generate $13 million in state and local taxes annually and would directly or indirectly pump about $50 million annually into the economy. The facility would employ about 40 people.

AES plans to file a formal application Monday with the FERC, Morton said.

The company hasn't decided whether to seek approval for a 300-megawatt, natural gas-fired plant next to its proposed LNG terminal, Morton said. The plant would run on revaporized LNG from the terminal and could provide enough power for 240,000 to 300,000 homes.

In advance of its application, AES has been advertising in local newspapers. Officials including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., state senators and delegates and the councilman representing the Dundalk area, have all stated opposition to the project.

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