Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Middletown group fights gas storage plant

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Residents in Middletown want to stop a Virginia-based power company from building a storage plant for natural gas on 11 acres of historic land just outside the town.

Citizens for the Preservation of Middletown Valley has formed to stop Dominion Transmission Inc. from building a 14,000-horsepower natural gas compressor station on historic farmland, just off of Marker Road and two miles west of Middletown.

‘‘We believe it is the wrong type of land for this,” said Richard Maranto, a founding member of the group. ‘‘It sits upon a hill and there are views of the entire Middletown Valley.”

The station would be visible from Braddock Heights to South Mountain, Maranto said. A historic German stone house, known as Fox’s Tavern and once visited by George Washington, also sits on the property.

The Federal Agency Regulatory Commission, the governing body that will make the final decision as to whether Dominion will be approved to build the station, was scheduled to give a site tour of the property Wednesday afternoon, after The Gazette deadline.

A public meeting on the project was scheduled for Wednesday night at Middletown Middle School.

Dominion has submitted an application with the regulatory commission to put the station on 11 acres of a 135-acre site it has optioned to buy.

‘‘The facility will be placed in the middle of the property, and the remaining acreage will be undeveloped and could be used for agricultural purposes,” said Bob Fulton, a spokesman with Dominion.

Fulton said the company understands the concerns of residents, but this site was picked because computer models indicated that it was the ‘‘most appropriate” for moving the natural gas along the pipeline.

‘‘Other sites were considered, but because our existing pipeline runs at the edge of the property, we would be able to connect to line with minimal construction,” he said.

The ‘‘relay station” would pump natural gas from Pennsylvania to customers in the northeast market, which includes Maryland and Virginia. Fulton said the company has no plans to tear down the historic stone house. ‘‘We’re well aware there is an historic building and it certainly will be preserved,” he said.

Dominion should expect a fight from not only Middletown residents, but also groups outside the town.

Friends of Frederick County, a citizen-based land preservation group, has joined the battle.

‘‘The choice of agriculturally zoned farmland for an industrial site is not only inappropriate, but contravenes Frederick County’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Amy Farber, board member, in a press release. ‘‘Millions of dollars have been spent to preserve the farm land and historic battlegrounds in this valley. [Friends of Frederick County] stands ready to assist Citizens for the Preservation of Middletown Valley in spreading the word to local, state, and federal officials that we should not gamble this investment away by selling out to corporate interests and rezoning agricultural land when other suitably zoned sites may lie elsewhere.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to take public comment from residents, before making a decision.