More than 100 residents of Bryans Road and the Moyaone Reserve attended a public hearing on Monday to urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to reject Dominion Energy Cove Point LLC’s request to drain water on the construction site of its proposed compressor station.
Dominion has applied for a water appropriation and use permit from MDE to “dewater” up to 1.45 acres of land to a depth of up to 16 feet should it receive approval to install two large natural-gas turbines that would pump natural gas through an underground pipeline that runs through northern Charles County.
Dominion environmental consultant Frank Cannetto told the audience that the process would lower the water table in the construction zone by approximately 6 feet during the construction phase, which would last approximately nine months.
Drainage is necessary to ensure safe and dry working conditions for construction crews, Cannetto said.
Cannetto and geologist Kevin Sharpe of EA Engineering, Science and Technology Inc. explained that the underground water would be pumped into a sediment pond before being allowed to drain into the adjacent Mill Swamp.
The public hearing, held at the Bryans Road Volunteer Fire Department, went well over its allotted three hours as residents peppered Cannetto and Sharpe with questions and challenged their assertions that the drainage would have only a minimal impact on local flora and fauna.
Audience members expressed concern that even temporary draining of the wetland area would cause many plants to die and deprive birds of food during that time.
One resident argued that Dominion had not recognized the presence of the endangered Northern Long-eared Bat in its disclosures to MDE about at-risk wildlife within the 50-acre property.
Residents also sought assurances that their wells would not be affected. Cannetto said that residents who experienced well problems would be provided with bottled water as a temporary solution while the company assessed the situation and would remediate problems up to and including drilling new wells if necessary.
Several audience members angrily accused the Dominion representatives of providing “non-answers” and being evasive about the environmental impact of not just the dewatering, but also of the compressor station itself should it be completed.
Audience members pointed out what they saw as inconsistencies in the information provided by Dominion, and even charged that two photographs of a similar dewatering site in Charles County were “intentionally misleading” because they showed distinct views of the site looking east and west, not the same view taken before and after the dewatering, as many had mistakenly assumed.
Many questions were also directed at John Grace of MDE’s Water Management Administration, who moderated the hearing. Throughout the evening, Grace frequently intervened to clarify audience questions and prevented people from raising off-topic issues such as the potential for air pollution from the completed station or the ethics of pumping fracked gas through the pipeline.
A representative of Concrete Workers United Local 202 defended the project, telling the audience that Dominion would be paying living wages to the construction workers it employed, and that the union would make sure the work would be done safely and without long-term harm to the environment.
In order to allow people who had signed up to make a statement to do so, Grace extended the meeting past its scheduled 7:30 wrap-up.
Dominion wants to install the compressor station as part of its $147.3 million Eastern Market Access project, which would upgrade the 88-mile-long Cove Point Pipeline that runs through Charles and Prince George’s counties to the Cove Point terminal in Calvert County.
Dominion says the upgrade is necessary to meet the demand for natural gas by Washington Gas and the planned Mattawoman Energy Center in Brandywine, both of which would tap into the Cove Point Pipeline further down the line from the compressor station.
Several residents accused Dominion of fabricating its claim about meeting increased demand as a means of disguising its intention to use the Bryans Road compressor station to increase output through the Cove Point LNG export terminal.
Dominion has denied this accusation repeatedly throughout the process of seeking permission to build the compressor station, saying the export terminal is already running at full capacity now.
In March, a majority of the Charles County Board of Appeals voted to deny Dominion’s application for a special zoning exception to construct the compressor station. Late last month, the board upheld its decision following Dominion’s request to reconsider.
Dominion is challenging the appeals board decision in federal district court, arguing that an approval for the project issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called a certificate of public convenience and necessity, overrides the county’s zoning ordinances.
The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Communities Council and four local residents recently sought to join the federal lawsuit as co-defendants alongside the board of appeals and the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
Grace told the audience that given the concerns he had heard expressed at the public hearing, he would be recommending that the public comment period be kept open for another 60 days, until Aug. 10.
Concerned citizens may submit their comments to MDE by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 410-537-3714.