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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to release its environmental assessment on the proposed expansion project at Dominion Cove Point on Thursday, which would start a 30-day public comment period before the commission makes a decision to approve the project.

On Wednesday, May 7, concerned residents gathered once again at the Southern Community Center in Lusby to ask questions and plan for the upcoming comment period.

Jon Kenney, Maryland field organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said at Wednesday’s meeting that CCAN will file for a FERC public comment period extension. If FERC were releasing a longer environmental impact statement rather than an environmental assessment, the public comment period would be longer, but more than 30 days are still needed for people to read the assessment and to respond, Kenney said.

“The problem with FERC is that they consistently approve these pipeline and gas infrastructure projects,” Kenney said Wednesday.

Residents at Wednesday’s meeting wondered how input would have an effect on FERC. Kenney said the sheer number of comments FERC will receive and the amount of people at the rally CCAN has planned for July should speak volumes.

But resident Sue Allison said in a phone interview Friday that public input is already having an effect on the agencies deciding whether to allow the expansion.

Just more than one week before FERC was expected to release its environmental assessment on the proposed expansion project, the Maryland Public Service Commission sent a letter asking if a risk assessment is required on the expansion project. The PSC is expected to make its decision on Dominion’s application to construct a generating station at Cove Point by the end of the month, and wrote its May 6 letter to organizations including CCAN.

Allison said the PSC’s question might have come in response to public comments collected through April 2, when she and others wrote about their concerns, which included concerns that a comprehensive risk assessment would not be done on the proposed expansion.

Allison said the PSC’s letter is proof that those making some of the biggest decisions regarding the plant’s expansion are hearing the concerns of residents.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the environmental assessment to be released this week will say whether a risk assessment will be required for the expansion, and the public comments received throughout the following 30 days will be addressed in the final environmental assessment.

“Public input does play a role in how the commission decides the issues,” Young-Allen said. “We do listen. We do take those concerns into consideration.”

The final EA should be released sometime between May 15 and Aug. 13, the deadline FERC set for other federal agencies to submit their reports on the expansion, Young-Allen said.

FERC informally agreed to host a public meeting during the comment period, but Young-Allen said more information on the meeting should be available with the release of the environmental assessment.

sfleischman@somdnews.com