Key LNG plant issue: jobs

Labor groups back proposed Baltimore County terminal

June 09, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN REPORTER

With hearings to begin today on a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal in Sparrows Point, labor groups say one aspect of the project has been overlooked: jobs.

A labor group representing more than 150,000 workers in Maryland has announced its support for the proposal by AES Corp., a Virginia-based power supply company, to build the LNG terminal on the former site of the Bethlehem Steel Corp. shipyard and construct a 88-mile pipeline to southern Pennsylvania for distribution.

The project has been denounced by elected officials and community activists, who have raised safety and environmental concerns. It has been endorsed by the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association.

"For us, in a nutshell, it's about the jobs," said Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO. "And it's not flipping burgers. We're talking about good jobs with good benefits."

Union leaders estimate that the construction of the LNG plant and pipeline would generate about 375 full-time jobs for four years. AES has promised that the work would be done with union labor.

Wayne R. Frazier Sr., president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, said negotiations are continuing with AES about the percentage of minority contractors that would be involved in the construction work.

The LNG project would create about 50 permanent jobs, AES officials have said.

Community leaders and elected officials say they remain opposed to the proposed terminal, which would be less from two miles from the nearest houses in Dundalk. The pipeline would be a similar distance from schools and homes.

"For over two years, I have repeatedly raised my safety, security and environmental concerns about this LNG facility and pipeline," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement last week. "Today, I am still waiting for these concerns to be adequately addressed."

When AES announced its plans two years ago, the project was met with almost instant opposition. Community groups were formed to lobby against the plan, federal and state lawmakers unsuccessfully proposed laws to ban the LNG terminal, and local officials have been looking for a legal way to stop the project.

Union leaders have long supported the project because of the construction jobs it would create. And in April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which decides where LNG plants can be built, concluded that the AES project could be "environmentally acceptable" with additional work.

But Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said that "even FERC admits they are loads of issues yet to be resolved."

Last month, a federal appeals court struck down a Baltimore County law that opponents of the LNG plant considered their best chance of stopping the project.

Because of the court ruling, said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, "I think this project is coming to fruition. And I think we need to be prepared."

Smith said he is optimistic about prevailing on the legal issue. The county will be asking the state to seek approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the county's ban on LNG plants as part of its revised coastal zone management plan, he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the company's request to dredge the Patapsco River to accommodate the overseas LNG tankers.

Public hearings before Corps of Engineers and FERC officials are scheduled for today at Patapsco High School in Dundalk, Wednesday at a fire hall in Downingtown, Pa., and Thursday at Richlin Ballroom in Edgewood. The meetings will begin at 7 p.m.

A final report by the FERC staff is expected to be complete in mid-August, and the five-member commission is tentatively scheduled to make a final decision on the project by the end of November.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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