Officials weigh LNG bill

Designation considered to stop Sparrows Point plant

January 31, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

After an attempt to craft legislation blocking a liquefied natural gas plant in Sparrows Point was struck down, county elected leaders and officials raised questions yesterday about whether a new proposal that would prohibit LNG projects in environmentally sensitive coastal areas would survive a similar legal challenge.

The proposed measure is the second attempt by county officials to stop a global power supply company from building an LNG terminal at the Sparrows Point shipyard and an 87-mile pipeline to a southern Pennsylvania distribution plant.

A county law aimed at halting the project was struck down this month by a federal court judge who said federal law overrides the county zoning ordinance. The county law, passed in June, prohibited LNG terminals within five miles of a home.

The proposed terminal would be less than two miles from the Turners Station neighborhood in Dundalk.

The court ruling, the result of a lawsuit against the county by the company seeking to build the Sparrows Point facility, prompted the council members' questions yesterday.

County officials, including David A. C. Carroll, head of the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, said that the measure, an amendment to the county's zoning rules for a Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, differed significantly from the June law.

If passed, it would add LNG facilities to a list of prohibited uses in coastal areas. Already, solid and hazardous waste disposal facilities and sanitary landfills are not allowed in those areas.

Instead of seeking to limit the location of an LNG facility, the measure attempts to restrict the type of facility permitted in a critical coastal area, said John Beverungen, the county's top attorney.

"This has nothing to do with siting. This has to do with use," he said.

If the measure wins council approval, the state commission in charge of Maryland's Coastal Zone Management program would review the proposed zoning change, county officials said.

If the state determines that the natural gas project is inconsistent with state and federal coastal zone management programs, that finding must factor into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's decision on the Sparrows Point facility, according to county officials.

The federal Clean Air, Clean Water and Coastal Zone acts can supersede the National Gas Act, which authorizes FERC to determine LNG facility locations, Beverungen said.

But officials with AES Corp., the company seeking to build the facility, said that the proposed law is an illegal attempt to stop the project through local zoning.

The aim of "the coastal waters management act is to protect water quality and wildlife," said attorney Robert C. Douglas, a consultant for AES. "It's not a way to selectively zone."

The council is expected to vote on the measure at its meeting Monday.

Yesterday, some council members questioned company officials about the safety and necessity of the project and about the potential impact on the environment.

The AES plan calls for dredging the Patapsco River, which some residents and officials say will stir up toxins that will harm the river, nearby creek and the bay.

Kent Morton, AES' project manager for the proposed facility, said the company's dredging would improve the water quality.

"By clearing out the contaminants, it's no longer leaching into the water," he said.

Russell Donnelly, a Dundalk resident and environmental advocate, disputed the company's analysis during yesterday's meeting.

"It does not truly reflect the nature of this beast," Donnelly said, adding that tests on behalf of federal and state agencies have showed the presence of highly toxic materials in the sediment.

Donnelly is one of the organizers of a forum to be held today to discuss the future of the Sparrows Point peninsula.

The environmental symposium, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fleming Community Center in Turners Station, is open to the public. Information: 410-633- 6646.

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