- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In a unanimous vote, the Maryland Board of Public Works authorized a tidal wetlands license for Dominion Cove Point to construct a temporary pier in the Patuxent River near the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge in Solomons.
There, the company would receive heavy equipment from barges to build a multibillion-dollar liquefaction expansion in Lusby, which is pending final approval from various state and federal agencies.
The approval Wednesday coming from the board consisting of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy Kopp is just one of many the company needs to receive for various aspects of the controversial liquefied natural gas export project. Although the meeting of the board Wednesday dealt specifically with the wetlands license, the questions from the board and comments from Dominion representatives and community members looked at the project from multiple perspectives.
“Sometimes at the board of public works, wetlands permits take on cosmic proportions, and this is one of those days,” O’Malley said.
Prior to the meeting in Annapolis, supporters and opposers of the project gathered on or near Lawyer’s Mall in front of the State House. Within the meeting itself, seven in opposition to the project were in attendance, while more than 60 were in support. There was also an overflow room provided, according to online documents from the board of public works.
Despite verbal protests from the audience, the board sought for a balance in the time allotted to speakers on both sides of the issue. At times, laughter and other conversations interrupted speakers. Even though the board listened to opinions on many issues about the project, the financial benefits were key.
“Obviously, this is a very significant project,” Franchot said. “Economically, I think it’s much bigger than the Keystone Pipeline.”
Discussion topics ranged from emergency management at the plant, greenhouse gas emissions, barge safety in the proximity of the bridge in Solomons, what a quantitative risk assessment would entail and more.
Franchot encouraged a broader discussion about the project during the meeting, against the recommendations of the Board of Appeals and asked what agencies hold Dominion accountable for the mitigation measures required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission issued a favorable environmental assessment on the project in May.
“I’m voting today in the public interest, and I would like to hear who is going to be accountable for the environmental stewardship for this project,” Franchot said.
Michael Frederick, the vice president of LNG operations for Dominion Cove Point, said the company stays in contact with each of the agencies responsible for the dozens of mitigation measures required and that they are “very heavily scrutinized” during the construction phase.
Specific to the wetlands license, an oyster bar exists on the site where the pier would stand, but Dominion will adhere to time-of-year restrictions to minimize the affect on the oyster populations in addition to providing a new reef, Frederick said.
“[Environmental stewardship] is one of the core values of this company,” Frederick said.
Frederick also addressed the commonly mentioned lack of a quantitative risk assessment (QRA). Currently, the plant has 300 detectors to sense gas leaks on site with more to come, Frederick said. A QRA would analyze different emergency scenarios with the equipment as a factor. The standards FERC used are more conservative, Frederick said, because scenarios are analyzed without taking the detectors into account.
O’Malley asked Frederick to go into more depth about the economic benefits of the projects. Frederick told him it contributes an additional $40 million in tax revenue to Calvert County, in addition to a total of 3,000 years of jobs throughout the multiyear construction phase of the project, permanent jobs and, by extension, revenue to the state through bringing in more workers.
“The cumulative economic benefits … are enormous,” Franchot said.
Although the permit and the pier are temporary — 18 months — Tracey Eno, a Lusby resident against the project, said the decision goes beyond the temporary and beyond economic benefits.
“The pier will be temporary, but if the LNG facility is built, the risks will be permanent,” Eno said Wednesday. “We may be the minority, but we have the most to lose because we live close by. For us, it’s not just about a job or a stock dividend.”
Resident Cindy Pyle, speaking in opposition to the project, said the permit allowing the pier leads to the expansion and the expansion leads to health risks.
“This license request is not in the state’s best interests,” Pyle said.
Former Comptroller Robert “Bobby” Swann was in attendance, and Franchot asked him to speak. Swann said he is an adjoining property owner of the permit area in Solomons and urged the board to approve the license.
“If this permit is not approved, the project ends,” Swann said.
The project moved forward with a 3-0 vote from the board after the nearly three-hour hearing. In addition to other pending approvals, FERC is expected to issue its final decision on the project in the coming months.