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Opponents protest in front of county courthouse; six arrested


Staff writer

On Wednesday — a day before six Dominion expansion protesters were arrested in Calvert County — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced it will issue its environmental assessment on the proposed Dominion Cove Point liquefied natural gas export project May 15 and will issue its decision by Aug. 31.

A Dominion news release from Wednesday afternoon states that the company has “welcomed” word from FERC about the EA being released in May.

Dominion has stated it anticipated construction to begin during the first half of 2014; however, the August decision from FERC has set that back, perhaps prolonging the proposed 2017 in-service date should it be approved.

On Thursday, Dominion released a statement regarding how this affects the project’s timeline, stating, “The Notice of Schedule for Environmental Assessment reaffirms EA status for the project, provides a date certain of May 15 for the EA to be issued, and provides for a timeline to FERC approval that is supportive of the project schedule.”

Several concerns and issues already have been identified, including the purpose and need for the project, effect on water resources, effect on recreational and natural areas, increased road traffic, effect on nearby residences and residential property value, public health and safety, effect on air quality and noise, cumulative effect and evaluation of project alternatives.

FERC stated that the decision to conduct an environmental impact study, which opponents of the project have been requesting, will be outlined in the environmental assessment.

Through an informal, verbal agreement between U.S. House Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and FERC, there will be a public meeting to discuss the assessment. In February, Tamara Young-Allen, a FERC spokesperson, said once that document is released, FERC will issue a notice of its availability and a date and location for the local public meeting will be set.

On Thursday morning, as opponents prepared for a protest in front of Calvert County Circuit Court in Prince Frederick, several organizations released a statement on FERC’s timeline for the project, criticizing FERC’s omission of opportunities for public participation. The statement is endorsed by Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizen Shale, Food & Water Watch, Howard County Climate Change, Interfaith Power & Light of Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, Maryland Sierra Club, Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community and University of Maryland Student Government Association.

“Federal officials are serving Dominion, not the public interest, in formally endorsing a low bar of scrutiny on a fast-tracked timeline. The announcement is a slap in the face to citizens and leaders across Maryland who have repeatedly called for a full Environmental Impact Statement — a type of review most protective of public health and safety and customary for a polluting project as huge as Dominion’s,” the statement said.

“… Astoundingly, while endorsing this lower bar of scrutiny,” the statement continues, “the agency has also omitted any mention of public participation or hearings. This omission comes even as Maryland’s U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin called on the agency to ‘go the extra mile’ in engaging the public and respond promptly to community leaders’ request for public meetings on the Cove Point project in Garrett, Frederick, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties.”

About a dozen opponents, including eight county residents and St. Mary’s College of Maryland students, gathered at the circuit court at about 11 a.m. — six of the protestors were arrested for blocking the court entrance 20 minutes later. The protest was organized by the residents and CCAN, which has formally opposed the project. This comes on the heels of two similar events in Cumberland and Frederick in recent weeks.

Prior to blocking the entrance, the protestors were on the court lawn holding dozens of signs and chanting, “Stop Cove Point,” “Dominion, your solution is our pollution” and “Dominion, don’t hijack our Cove Point.”

Several of the protestors were wearing dust masks and said it is in reference to the recent disclosure between FERC and Dominion about vapor barriers intended to help contain a vapor cloud should there be an accident on site.

Lusby resident Tracey Eno, who lives within a mile or so of Dominion’s terminal, shouted during the protest, “Good neighbors don’t have a vapor cloud.”

Protestor David Hardy, 70, of Lusby, who was arrested, said as soon as he heard about the project last summer, he knew it was wrong. Hardy said he was planning on getting arrested “to show our disdain to the project because they will be bringing dirty gas down to my community and then they will be releasing unknown gas … to our air from [hydraulic fracturing]. … Leave that gas in the ground.”

St. Mary’s College of Maryland senior Ashok Chandwaney, 21, who also was arrested, said he was protesting and planning to get arrested because “This is not just a Maryland fight.”

In his home state of Washington, Chandwaney said, there is a fight against a coal export facility, and some of his relatives have been involved in that fight for more than a year.

He said these companies that are trying to export the nation’s natural gas resources have a “reckless disregard for communities’ health,” and there are “so many dangers to the community and Dominion doesn’t seem to care, and that’s wrong.”

Others who were arrested for blocking the courthouse entrance include SMCM students Ruth Tyson of St. Mary’s City, 20, Emily Tanner of Virginia Beach, 20, and Gabriel McKinney of Balitmore, 18, as well as University of Maryland College Park student Ori Gutin of Rockville, 19.

Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Steve Jones said following the arrest, those under arrest were going to be detained at the courthouse until they could be transported to the Calvert County Detention Center for processing.

According to a sherrif’s office press release Thursday afternoon, they were each charged with willfully obstructing and hindering the free passage of another and others in a public place or on a public conveyance. All of the persons arrested complied and cooperated with law enforcement during the arrest processing phase, the release states. The charges filed are a misdemeanor and carry a fine of $500 or 60 days incarceration or both.