More than 120 foes of LNG plan turn out at hearing in Harford

June 13, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

The fury about a proposed liquefied natural gas project began in eastern Baltimore County, but it doesn't end there.

More than 120 LNG opponents filled a meeting room in Harford County last night to voice concerns about an 88-mile pipeline that would pass close to or cut through backyards, school grounds and parks.

"This is an ill-conceived project," said Donna Ichniowski, a Street resident, one of the dozens of residents and officials who spoke about the proposed line, 30 inches in diameter, that would connect a proposed LNG terminal on Sparrows Point to three interstate gas lines in southern Pennsylvania.

Recreational groups, activists and representatives of elected officials opposed to the project, including Harford County Executive David Craig, said they were upset about the potential loss of trees and forests, the impact on wetlands and a lack of security along the proposed pipeline.

The hearing in Edgewood was the last of three meetings this week held by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is evaluating the proposal by AES Corp. The global power-supply company wants to construct the LNG terminal at the old Bethlehem Steel shipyard to receive overseas tankers and to build the pipeline to distribute the gas. The corps is considering a request by AES to dredge 118 acres in the Patapsco River to accommodate the tankers.

"If this goes through, we'll be talking about the Love Canal of Sparrows Point and the Chesapeake Bay," said Ichniowski, whose sister co-founded the LNG opposition team in Dundalk.

The proposed pipeline would cross within 50 feet of 179 houses and could also "affect wells and septic systems," according to a FERC report.

The line would also cross the properties of Fallston Middle, Fallston High and Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston. And it would come within a quarter-mile of Dublin Elementary in Street, Victory Villa Elementary School in Parkville, Glenmar Elementary School in Middle River and Middle River Middle School, in addition to dozens of churches and parks, including crossing through Gunpowder State Park and Camp Conowingo, the Girl Scout camp in Cecil County.

"How much risk can one community absorb?" said Dr. Roman Ratych, president of the Greater Fallston Association.

No houses or buildings would have to be razed for the pipeline, according to the company's filings with FERC. But AES would receive eminent domain authority - or the power of a government to take private property for public use - if the pipeline is approved by the commission, according to Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for the agency.

AES officials say that power would be used as a last resort. Negotiations between AES and affected property owners have not begun, according to the company.

The proposed pipeline would also run close to the Scarboro Landfill, said Roxanne Lynch, a spokeswoman for Harford County.

"With all the digging we do, we're concerned about an accident," she said. "We have grave concerns about that."

The planned route could also cross or come within a quarter-mile of several other landfills and dumps and several historical sites and districts, including Jerusalem Mill.

"This plan makes no sense," said state Del. Pat McDonough, who said he was upset that this would be the first project to be located on inland water, rather than along a coast. "We're the guinea pigs."

Some specifics about pipeline route are classified because they contain information that would be considered proprietary to businesses or other details, such as the location of valves, considered to be critical to the nation's energy infrastructure, said Young-Allen.

About half of the pipeline - 48 miles - would be in Maryland, and the other half - 40 miles - would be in Pennsylvania. During construction, about 1,600 acres would be affected by a 75- to 100-foot right-of-way needed to construct the pipeline. Most - about 75 miles or 91 percent - of the route is near or along existing utility and highway right-of-ways, though much of that land is privately owned, according to the FERC reports.

The $250 million pipeline would end near Eagle, Pa., where three interstate pipelines that provide natural gas to the region come within one mile of one another, according to the company.

AES says the project would lower energy prices in the region by increasing the supply of natural gas.

The company has said that they will take steps to minimize the impact of pipeline construction, which would involve drilling a trench at least 5 feet deep.

Hundreds of people turned out for Monday's hearing in Dundalk And about 90 residents attended a hearing in Downingtown, Pa., on Wednesday, according to Young-Allen.

This year, FERC staff members recommended conditional approval for the LNG project. A final report from FERC is expected in August, with the five-member commission tentatively set to make a decision about the project in November.

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