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Town hall speakers defend their presentations, facts at heated meeting

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

Hundreds packed a Southern Community Center room Tuesday night in Lusby to once again hear presentations about Dominion’s proposed liquefied natural gas export project at its Cove Point terminal.

The Cove of Calvert, Cove Point Beach, Cove Lake and Hidden Treasures homeowners’ associations sponsored the meeting.

During several presentations, speakers tried to thwart efforts by others to discredit their presentations and information presented by environmental advocacy group Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which launched a campaign against Dominion Cove Point’s proposed project.

“There is a campaign by some to discredit the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, to discredit anyone who dares ask for an [environmental impact statement], myself included,” said Jean Marie Neal, a Cove of Calvert resident who has been very outspoken on the issue. “There’s been a lot of twisting of what some of us have said and some people haven’t liked the tone or particular words. The Cove of Calvert community does not agree with CCAN on all their issues. But, we do appreciate their support of an EIS because that is our goal, too.”

Proponents of the $3.8 billion project who were at the town hall meeting weren’t excluded from the defamation either.

Calvert County Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) was called a liar by an audience member when he was attempting to answer a resident’s question.

A resident asked Clark, Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) and Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R), who attended the meeting, how the nearby residents will benefit from the project.

Clark said, “You know, to come here and refute what [CCAN Director] Mr. Tidwell said, I mean, I could do that. I could bring scientists, I could bring people — ”

Interrupting him, attendees began shouting for Clark to do so, and one man called out declaring Clark a liar, when Clark interrupted: “I am not a liar, sir. Sir, let me tell you something. You wanna call me a liar, call me a liar. I have never called no one a liar, sir. I have been extremely — I have been extremely, extremely, extremely polite. You can call me a lot of things, sir; call me whatever you want, but don’t impugn my reputation. ... You don’t even know me. You don’t even know me. When did you ever call me? When did you ever call me and ask me one question? You can do a lot of things in life to me, but don’t call me a liar because if you’re calling me a liar, you’re wrong.”

Neal intervened, saying that the commissioners weren’t invited to the meeting to be put in such a position.

“We have tried to do this very orderly and very politely. All of us here do not agree with everything said, but let me make a suggestion. We appreciate you being here tonight, and we’re not gonna put you on the spot,” Neal addressed the commissioners present. “… I think it would be really good if the commissioners held … a public hearing, in which all of this could be aired and discussed, and that’s what’s been missing from this process and why people are so frustrated.”

Clark said, “What I was trying to get at before this gentleman so rudely interrupted … you could bring people in to dispute any facts and to spin any facts any way.”

To open the meeting, Tom Baranoski, president of the Cove of Calvert homeowners’ association, said the meeting was being called “because we believe … that this will place a major industrial site within our communities and along Cove Point Road.”

During the discussion about Dominion’s project — which is still awaiting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and several federal and state permitting agencies — Neal recognized that tax revenue to the county would increase and temporary construction jobs would be created.

“If you look only at the tax dollars and the construction jobs, you may think this is not a bad idea,” she said. “But to do that in a vacuum is just not responsible and gives no measurement to the potential downsides and how such a project would transform the area around and on Cove Point Road, in Calvert County and with the folks for the entire state of Maryland. To do that in a vacuum gives no measurement to what local residents will feel, see and hear every day. It gives no measurement to potential negative risks to area wetlands, to our precious Chesapeake Bay, to the Patuxent, and all the revenue we derive from the resulting tourism and fishing.”

Only with an environmental impact statement, she said, would those measurements be assessed.

FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen said during a phone interview Wednesday that an “environmental document” is being prepared that comprises “all the criteria included under the National Environmental Policy Act.” This includes the purpose and need for the project, effects on water resources, wildlife, recreational and natural areas, tree removal, increased road and marine traffic, and on nearby residences, as well as many other items, such as property values, economic benefits and public health.

Young-Allen said no date for the release of the “environmental document” has been scheduled because FERC still is analyzing information.

Once completed, there will be “many opportunities” for the public to comment, she said. The commission and FERC staff will review those comments, and a draft document will be released, followed by a final document in which the commission will make a decision on Dominion’s application, Young-Allen said.

Mike Tidwell, the director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, also presented at the meeting Tuesday night. CCAN is a nonprofit group fighting global warming in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., area. For several months, the group has expressed opposition to Dominion’s proposed project and has held several meetings on the matter in Calvert as well as a statewide tour.

Tidwell said he has received several comments and questions about why he is so involved in fighting the project when he isn’t from Calvert.

“I am opposed to Cove Point,” Tidwell said. “I don’t think it should be built — this expansion. I think it’s wrong for our state.”

Solomons resident and waterman Peter Ide said, “I don’t care where you’re from because you’re looking out for my interests and the interests of the people in this room who don’t have a vested interest in this project, which I believe are the ones who were reached out to by the powers that be who are pushing this forward — pushing it down our throats with no regard for, especially, the people who live in that vicinity.”

Tidwell said Dominion recently has signed a contract with Cabot Oil and Gas, a Pennsylvania natural gas company, to supply the gas that will be exported to Asia.

In April 2013, Dominion signed two, 20-year contracts with Japanese and Indian companies to use the Cove Point terminal to receive American LNG. However, Dominion’s application states it will provide services to its customers to allow for the export of LNG to world markets but will not itself provide the gas or ship the LNG.

The company has signed a 20-year contract with Pacific Summit Energy LLC (the Japanese company Dominion has a contract with) for 350,000 million British Thermal Units per day of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale beginning on the in-service date of Dominion’s liquefaction project, according to a Cabot Oil and Gas news release.

On Thursday morning, Cove Point LNG media/communications manager Karl Neddenien said that amount is “roughly” half the export output of Dominion’s capability, which is about equal to Pacific Summit’s contract with Dominion.

Another issue Tidwell brought up at the meeting, which also has been a controversial topic, was the amount of pollution the Lusby plant would expel. Tidwell said whether there will be 2 or 3 million tons of carbon dioxide entering the air, “it’s still a lot.” He also cited nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, acid gasses and mercury as other pollutants.

On Wednesday, James Norvelle, the director of media relations with Dominion, said he isn’t sure on those specifics but it’s all going to be under “strict” federal and state air regulations.

“We’re not going to be breaking the law here,” he said.

Tidwell said during the meeting that at combustion, natural gas is cleaner than coal, but “first, you have the fracking, then you have the compressing and the pipelines and the liquefaction and the entire power plant — this is all energy-intensive lifecycle intensity that precedes the combustion.”

He said if the entire process is taken into account, “then shipping natural gas in liquid form to Asia is almost certainly as bad, if not worse, than burning coal for the environment.”

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Neal and Tidwell said Dominion is buying “pollution credits” from other companies. Norvelle said Wednesday the company is in the process of buying pollution reduction credits because new development is required to be offset.

During the town hall meeting, several residents from the surrounding community expressed their concerns.

Mark Wentling, secretary and treasurer of the Hidden Treasures homeowners’ association, said his home is about four-tenths of a mile from the proposed building spot.

“We hear the existing facility on a regular basis — just the pumps. We don’t have the jet-turbine power plant up yet. We get the light pollution from this thing without even the new construction having started yet,” Wentling said.

As the meeting concluded, an attendee asked if Dominion was asked to attend. Neal said the company was not, “and the reason is: They have been asked numerous times to hold forums. We don’t need to ask Dominion. Dominion should be out talking to the community.”

ascott@somdnews.com