- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The exact implications aren’t fully clear as to how the recent ruling that the county’s exemption of Dominion Cove Point from zoning ordinances will affect the export project at the existing facility.
The ruling, issued by visiting Judge James P. Salmon on Aug. 6, declared that ordinance 46-13 to exempt Dominion Cove Point from local zoning ordinances was invalid and was passed outside the bounds of the authority of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners. The ordinance was passed Oct. 29, 2013, after a joint public hearing with the BOCC and the Calvert County Planning Commission.
The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Communities Council filed a petition for judicial review Nov. 27, 2013, and Salmon heard the case June 6 in Calvert County Circuit Court.
The county has until Sept. 5 to appeal the decision, county attorney John Norris said Monday. Norris said the decision to appeal ultimately comes to the BOCC, and the decision whether to appeal could happen in either closed or public session.
“There’s a feeling of wanting to keep the public involved without hurting the county position,” Norris said.
A statement released Aug. 13 by the county says the board would consider next steps at its next meeting Aug. 19.
“The BOCC believes the premise behind the zoning exemption remains legitimate,” the release said. “It recognizes that review and inspection of these types of highly technical, stringently regulated projects should be conducted by experienced federal and state regulators due to the rigorous standards they must meet.”
J. Carroll Holzer, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of the AMP Creeks Community Council, said he hopes the county appeals the decision because the issue would have to be decided once and for all — a decision that would have statewide ramifications whether to allow other counties to make ordinances for specific properties.
“I’d never seen a local jurisdiction try to take all the zoning off a particular piece of property,” Holzer said Monday in a phone interview. “… It created a black hole of zoning.”
In the Aug. 6 order, Salmon declared the exemption invalid because it violated a state law that requires zoning regulations to “be uniform for each class or kind of development throughout each district zone” and it creates a special law, which is forbidden by the Maryland Constitution.
Now that the zoning exemption has been deemed invalid, Holzer said it could potentially mean some parts of the site plan may not be in compliance with the local zoning regulations, such as the 60-foot-tall barrier around parts of the proposed facility expansion and the forest buffer area.
Norris said the exact implications of the decision as far as the zoning regulations for the expansion at Dominion Cove Point, a $3.8 billion project to export liquefied natural gas, have not yet been thoroughly evaluated by the county, as information first has to be gathered to determine if there are sufficient grounds to appeal the decision.
Karl Neddenien, spokesman for Dominion Cove Point, said the company does not expect any schedule impact, and Monday deferred specific questions on how the decision impacts the facility to the county.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he believes the order will delay the project.
“It seems incomprehensible that there wouldn’t be consequences,” Tidwell said in a phone interview.
Diana Dascalu-Joffe, senior general counsel for CCAN, said the order as is may require the county to find someone with the expertise to enforce local zoning regulations at Dominion Cove Point.
“They’re responsible for public health and safety, and that’s what zoning laws are for,” Dascalu-Joffe said Monday.
Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is expected to release its final order on the project, were not available to comment on if the Aug. 6 order could affect the commission’s decision.