Neighbors decry pipeline path

Harford residents see loss of land, potential danger

August 13, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

The lush 12-acre field, bordered by huge oaks and a rippling creek, would have been the perfect setting for a country house, with plenty of room for a few horses to gallop around.

That, at least, was Ann Paszkiewicz's vision six years ago, when she paid $250,000 for the property near Fallston High School in Harford County.

But yesterday, Paszkiewicz and other residents of the area who have been fighting a proposed natural-gas pipeline got the full measure of what the construction might mean to their properties. She, for one, is giving hers up for lost.

"They're going to take the whole 12 acres," Paszkiewicz said, her tone resigned, during a tour of the pipeline's intended course through part of her neighborhood, known as Brookhill Farms. The tour was conducted by officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is to vote on the pipeline's route in November as part of a project that is to include construction of a liquefied natural-gas conversion plant at Sparrows Point in Dundalk. The company proposing the project is AES Corp., based in Arlington, Va.

Paszkiewicz and some of her neighbors say they have lost hope that they will be fairly compensated for the land they might be forced to give up. "It's kind of unfair, because it's a private company that's doing this," she said. "I thought only the government had the power to take land like that. We basically have no recourse. If the feds give them the OK to do this, they can. Either way, it's a lose-lose."

Of even greater concern, the neighbors said, is the possibility that the pipeline, once installed five feet underground and snaking through the area, could pose a danger to the 3,000 children at Fallston Middle School and Fallston High School, which share a campus. The perimeter of the pipeline's construction zone would be 818 feet from the nearest school building, and considerably closer to several houses.

"These things blow up," said Andy Hutton, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years and has three children in local schools. "They can blow 1,000 feet into the air. If one of those tiny gas pipes can take out three houses in Baltimore, think what one of these can do."

The pipe, likely to be 30 inches in diameter, would carry natural gas to Eagle, Pa., where three interstate pipelines converge.

"It's buried - it's not like people can get to it," Joanne Wachholder, a FERC representative who was leading yesterday's tour, said when pressed by the residents as to the pipeline's safety. Pipeline operators say their systems have a good safety record.

Still, said Guido Guarnaccia, who lives near Sparrows Point and took the tour "out of interest," a truck bomber could park near the pipeline and blow it up by remote control. "It might never happen," he said, "but with the problems this country has, who knows?"

For Greg Seltzer, who teaches history on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and has lived in Fallston since 1980, the tour and the information that came with it was a surprise. He said he and several neighbors learned there would be a tour for the first time when they read about it in yesterday's Sun.

"This is the first we've heard that they're doing site plans and condemning properties," said Seltzer. "It looks like they're fast-tracking this."

Even worse, he said, is the possibility that if the high school and middle school students were one day forced to evacuate the premises because of a problem with the pipeline, there would be "chaos."

"There's only one road in and out of that campus," he said. "That would not be good."

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