- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A St. Leonard woman believes she “struck a nerve” with Dominion Cove Point when oppositional signs she placed near Route 4 regarding the company’s proposed liquefied natural gas expansion were removed earlier this month, although Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin has determined their removal is not a crime.
When Kathy Penney lined a series of eight small, handmade “simple signs with simple messages” progressively along the median of the road just north of Solomons Island, so that they could be read by motorists traveling in both directions, she knew the placement was technically illegal.
But she also knew the Maryland State Highway Administration generally does not enforce its ban on signs situated on state rights of way during weekends, so she planned to leave them there from Saturday morning until Sunday evening.
When she went to retrieve them around 7 p.m. June 15, however, they were gone.
The signs — which bear messages such as “NATURAL GAS = MORE FRACKING,” “THE MONEY’S NOT WORTH IT” and “Go ONLINE TELL F.E.R.C. NO BY JUNE 16” (referring to the deadline of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s comment period for the expansion) — had been removed by a resident and offered to a Dominion employee whom the resident knew, said Karl Neddenein, spokesman for Dominion Cove Point.
The resident, he said, felt the signs were a safety hazard because they cause people to slow down on the highway. He said the employee noticed the signs’ support stakes were still in the median, pulled those out and turned everything over to the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office.
“My mistake was putting the signs in a state right of way, which made them illegal,” Penney said.
After discovering her signs had been removed, Penney contacted both the sheriff’s office and the Maryland State Police, and each denied having moved the signs, she said. By Monday, she found that neither the State Highway Administration nor the Calvert County government had, either.
So, she filed a theft report with the sheriff’s office Monday afternoon, which Capt. Steve Jones of the agency said it couldn’t enforce.
“It can’t be theft. It is abandoned property,” he said. “She could press charges, but nothing would come of it.”
Because Dominion turned the signs over to the sheriff’s office and Penney filed the theft report, the sheriff’s office was able to reunite the complainant with her property — which she said she now plans to legally place along Route 4, on the private property of whoever will allow her to do so.
People knowingly placing illegal signs along Route 4 for the weekend is a frequent occurrence, said David Buck, a spokesman for SHA. Political signs are often an impetus for an uptick in inquiries about such displays.
SHA’s right of way stretches from a utility pole on one side of the highway to the utility pole on the other, Buck said. Many of the long-term signs that line Route 4 legally, such as those advertising candidates for political office, are on private property with the permission of the owner.
Signs such as Penney’s can be a sight-distance issue and also can pose a challenge for maintenance crews working on state-owned land, which is part of the reason they are not allowed, Buck said.
Regardless of the fact that Dominion did not commit any crimes in respect to the sign removals, Penney believes the fight against Cove Point’s expansion, and this story of her signs, “hasn’t ended” — that it will, in fact, “provide kindling for the opposition’s fire.”
She said she plans to tell the story of the signs at a rally specifically opposing the Cove Point expansion July 13 in Washington, D.C.
Staff writer Sarah Fleischman contributed to this report.