- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council is suing the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners over the board’s decision to exempt liquefied natural gas facilities from county zoning ordinances.
The case was heard Friday by visiting Judge James P. Salmon as protestors rallied outside the courthouse.
The amendment to exempt LNG facilities was adopted after a joint public hearing with the Calvert County Planning Commission in October.
Attorney Atty J. Holzer, representing the AMP council, said the amendment passed Oct. 29, 2013, was “unquestionably property specific,” meaning the text amendment to the zoning ordinance was created solely for the proposed export project at Dominion Cove Point in Lusby.
But county attorney John Norris said the amendment applies to all 430 properties zoned as I-1 within the county. The amendment was to allow LNG facilities to bypass local zoning and permitting regulations, but not state or federal ones like those regulating the critical area. Facilities such as Dominion Cove Point and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant are highly regulated by federal agencies and the county does not have the expertise to deal with them, he said. The 2006 ordinance already included the nuclear plant, but the 2013 amendment was expanded to include LNG terminals.
Holzer also said the amendment excuses the Dominion project from all zoning regulations and allows it to bypass the permit process.
“Local regulations are going to be pre-empted anyway,” Norris said in a phone interview Monday. “If it was a marina, we know all about marinas. We can manage a marina ... but we have no idea how you take natural gas and compress it and put it in a boat.”
Holzer claimed Friday that the board of county commissioners was also in violation of the open meetings law, since the record was closed and the amendment was adopted in October, but a meeting behind closed doors was held 10 days later to formally adopt the amendment.
“There was no illegal meeting,” Norris said Friday. State law says a zoning text amendment can’t be effective until 10 days after the public hearing, so documents say the effective date is Nov. 8, 2013. The commissioners did not meet behind closed doors about the amendment on Nov. 8 or any other date, Norris said Monday.
“We did not do what they claim we did,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) Monday. “They’re just trying to delay Dominion.”
Salmon said Friday he is taking the remarks from the hearing under advisement. He will announce his decision at a later date, Norris said Monday.
During Friday’s hearing, about 40 people rallied outside the courthouse in support of the lawsuit, said Richelle Brown of Chesapeake Earth First. Seven speakers gave remarks on various issues surrounding the proposed export project at Dominion Cove Point, including fracking concerns.
Port Republic resident Lili Sheeline said she was disappointed with how the commissioners have handled the expansion at Cove Point — specifically, how they voted to close the record and adopt the text amendment immediately after hearing public comment in October.
“There wasn’t a moment of consideration of the public comments,” Sheeline said Monday. Sheeline said she believes it is the duty of the county to research the plant’s expansion, and not just that of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
After the speakers, the protestors wanted to make their presence known to the judge in the second-floor courtroom, yelling in unison.
“It was cathartic,” Brown said of the rally. “It was a chance to bring people together to broaden the picture.”