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Public hearing draws large crowd, heavy opposition

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

A large and boisterous crowd gathered for a public hearing earlier this week to voice opinions and concerns about exempting liquefied natural gas facilities from the county ordinance.

On Tuesday night, more than 100 people with vested interest in the proposed amendment packed the room at Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick for the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners and Calvert County Planning Commission joint public hearing. Despite a strong force of opposition to the amendment exempting LNG import or export facilities from the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance and International Building Code requirements, both county entities approved and adopted the amendment.

Construction of any occupied buildings and parking will still require commercial site plans be submitted to the county for approval, and Dominion Cove Point still needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its proposed liquefied natural gas exportation project.

Before the public comment period was opened Tuesday, Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said, “The Board of County Commissioners does not have the authority to approve or disapprove the Dominion Cove Point liquefaction facility. That rests with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. … Federal law supersedes any local ordinances we would have with regard to inspecting this, so what we’re doing is bringing our code into compliance with the federal regulations.”

The planning commission voted 4-1 to close the public record and recommend the county commissioners adopt the amendment. Planning Commission Vice Chairman Michael Phipps and member Bill Glascock recused themselves from the vote for conflicts of interest. Planning commission member Roxanne Cumberland opposed the amendment.

The county commissioners also voted 4-1 to close the public record, accept the planning commission’s recommendation and adopt the amendment. Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) said he opposed the vote because he wanted to leave the public record open for seven days.

After the amendment’s adoption, several attendees began yelling repeatedly, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the two boards.

Of the 36 speakers Tuesday night, all of whom referenced the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas exportation project, 30 requested the BOCC defer action and support or require an environmental impact study or voiced their concerns about the proposed project.

Community members described the amendment as “rushed,” “letting the devil in the back door” and “premature” without more information on the proposed expansion project’s environmental impacts.

“I don’t seem to find any commissioners concerned about the concerns of the neighbors,” Owen Cummings of Lusby said.

Port Republic resident Klaus Zwilsky said, “The operative word, as far as I’m concerned, is ‘oversight.’ If I understand correctly, you — the leadership of Calvert County — are willing to give up the technical oversight of this project to FERC. Now, what I would like to know is if anyone here, or if any of your staff, have looked at what those requirements are. … How much do you retain of the oversight ability if you give this up to FERC — are you still going to be able to make input to them?”

Many speakers also voiced concerns regarding noise, air pollution, vehicular traffic, ship traffic in the Chesapeake Bay, the disposal of hazardous chemicals, the Cove Point facility’s close proximity to Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, terrorism, federal and state oversight and the project’s effect on the Lower Patapsco Aquifer.

Aside from the heavy opposition present at the meeting, labor union members were in attendance to show their support for the Dominion project.

“Myself, and many other construction workers that live in this county, would enjoy for a change working in the county where we live, where we spend our money, shop local business, where my grandchildren go to school at,” Lusby resident Steve Cressoh said. He described the Dominion project as a “construction worker’s dream.”

Owings resident Steve Zimmerman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 said he’s had workers at both the Calvert Cliffs plant and at the existing Dominion import facility, “and Cove Point is one of the hardest places to work. I’ve had more members run off that job for safety violations, things that they can work on Calvert Cliffs and not get run off of.”

Earlier in the day, during the county commissioners’ regular meeting, Dominion officials gave an update on the proposed project.

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said he has three words for Dominion right now: “Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. I don’t think our role is as much to advocate for your project — you do that for yourself — I think our role is to help work with you. … From my perspective, I want your project to be successful. And the reason I want it to be successful is because, ultimately, I think the citizens of Calvert County will benefit from this.”

He, Shaw and Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) agreed there has been “a lot” of misinformation spread about the project.

“There’s no point in lobbying this board of commissioners with regard to decisions that are going to be made by FERC. We don’t have any influence with FERC. They’re the experts, and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do,” Shaw said. “… So, for anybody to somehow think that we can march up to FERC in Washington [D.C.,] and have some influence with them is kind of silly.”

ascott@somdnews.com