Fight over natural gas tanks raises questions of cost, safety

Thursday, March 2, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A Prince George’s County effort to halt a planned liquefied natural gas storage tank cleared a vote last week with Montgomery County legislators, but not without sparking the ire of Southern Maryland lawmakers.

The issue has pitted community fears of living near a potential terror target against lawmaker fears of an election-year consumer revolt to rising natural gas prices.

Meanwhile, a community rally against the gas facility is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday, at 2130 Chillum Road, Hyattsville.

The next in a series of public hearings before the Prince George’s County zoning hearing examiner, who advises the county council, is set for March 10.

At issue is the 12-million-gallon tank that Washington Gas wants to build in Chillum, near the West Hyattsville Metro stop. Under current rules, the Prince George’s County Council can approve the location with a simple five-vote majority.

The Prince George’s delegation in Annapolis wants to require the council to have a supermajority seven-of-nine votes to approve the site of any tank larger than 5,000 gallons.

Because the bill involves the bi-county Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the measure needed approval from Montgomery’s lawmakers, who voted 16-7 Friday to support the measure.

Southern Maryland lawmakers, in a letter to Montgomery County, offered misgivings about nonspecific, unintended consequences of the bill on businesses and residential customers.

‘‘It’s not just a Montgomery or Prince George’s thing altogether. They need to take the rest of us into consideration, too,” said Del. John F. Wood, who chairs the Southern Maryland delegation in Annapolis.

Moving the storage facility would affect workers, who live in Southern Maryland, and the cost would be passed on to constituents, said Wood (D-Dist. 29A) of Mechanicsville.

Besides, he said, the tanks were in Chillum first, then the homes were built around them.

Montgomery’s vote revealed the reservations lawmakers have with the plan. When the matter first came up for delegation approval, it received only 12 votes, one shy of the 13 needed to clear the 24-member delegation. Several members express fear that without the tank, natural gas consumers in Montgomery would pay more.

Three delegates — Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac, Marilyn R. Goldwater (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda and Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Olney — switched from opposing the bill to supporting it.

Of the three who abstained, Dels. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville and Michael R. Gordon (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, voted against the measure. Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda abstained because his employer, Potomac Inc., has done some work for Washington Gas.

Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 14) of Ashton, who missed the first vote, supported the bill.

Other communities are objecting to LNG facilities in their neighborhood. AES Corp. of Virginia is drawing heat for a $650 million project in Dundalk. The Daily Record reported Tuesday that Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. (D) has joined the chorus of opposition to the plant. Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk has offered a bill that would outlaw an LNG facility within three miles of a neighborhood.

Staff writer Tiesha Higginscontributed to this story.