Rachel Heinhorst addressed Cove Point protesters on her front lawn

Lusby, MD – As Dominion lays the groundwork for starting a multi-billion dollar project, local and regional citizens determined to stop it rallied Friday, Oct. 3 outside the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant in Lusby.

The venue for the protest, prompted by the decision announced Monday, Sept. 29 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve Dominion’s application to construct a liquefaction unit at the Cove Point facility, was the front yard of a family living directly across from the plant’s entrance.

The crowd of about 30 people held up signs and shouted “Stop Cove Point” as several large work vehicles entered and exited the plant. The event was billed a press conference and organized by Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community (CCHC). Three candidates seeking seats on the Calvert Board of County Commissioners also attended. The three—Democrat George Owings, Republican Mike Hart and Libertarian Peggy O’Donnell—spoke with the residents before and after the rally.

Much of the rhetoric heard from several of the eight speakers was similar to the statements CCHC members have been making for the past several Tuesdays during the Calvert County Commissioners’ meetings’ public comment segment. The group’s quasi filibusters at the commissioners’ meetings have persistently called for the elected officials to demand a quantitative risk assessment in light of the fact that a large number of homes—over 2,300—are located in proximity to the gas plant.

It was “a careless decision to let this [project] happen here,” said Lusby resident Rachel Heinhorst, who hosted the rally. Heinhorst said she and her family were well aware they were living across from a gas plant when they purchased the house seven years ago but since the plant had been inactive for so long any potential danger was not a concern. The liquefaction unit, Heinhorst indicated, is considered a game-changer and has prompted the family to consider moving. “We are being forced out of our home,” she said. “We are faced with an unfair decision. We don’t know if we can trust Calvert County anymore.”

The $3.8 billion liquefaction unit would give Dominion the capability to export LNG to foreign countries, via the plant’s offshore terminal on the Chesapeake Bay. Construction of the liquefaction unit would take three years to complete and create thousands of construction jobs. Once the unit begins operating, tax revenues from the lucrative exportation pacts are expected to rise for both Calvert County and the State of Maryland.

The decision by FERC to approve the application to construct a liquefaction unit at Cove Point came after a nearly four-year process undertaken by Dominion. According to information provided by Dominion, the company’s CEO Tom Farrell announced in late January 2011 that the company intended to explore liquefaction of natural gas at Cove Point. Nine months later Dominion applied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for permission to export LNG to countries having free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States. Almost two years later the DOE gave Dominion authorization to export LNG to non-FTA countries. It was after that development that the project began to attract strident opposition. Earlier in 2013 Dominion filed its project application with FERC and on the same day (April 1) filed an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) for the natural gas-fired power block for the Cove Point project.

One of the rally speakers, Ken Pritchard of Cove Point Beach, stated the plant, with the addition of a potent liquefaction unit, would pose a safety and health threat to area residents. Pritchard criticized Dominion and FERC for not releasing risk information and added state and county government officials have not been forthcoming with safety information.

“We’re in the dead zone right now,” said Pritchard, who declared the liquefaction unit would spew toxic pollutants and residents of Lusby and other surrounding communities would suffer. He noted there are several schools in proximity to the plant, making small children vulnerable to adverse health effects. “It’s never OK to poison a child,” Pritchard shouted.

“Any new air emissions will be in compliance with stringent state and federal clean air regulations,” Dominion’s project synopsis states. “Two highly efficient, natural gas-fired turbines are proposed to be built on-site to drive the main refrigerant compressors that are needed to cool the natural gas.”

Dominion officials have stated “offsets” will be purchased to keep emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds within the standards of Washington, DC; Maryland, Virginia air quality region.

The fact that most of the natural gas produced in the country has come from a technique call hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,” has drawn additional opposition to the Cove Point project. Craig Stevens, a former resident of a north Pennsylvania community located within the Marcellus Shale, brought a plastic jug of water which he claimed was from a former neighbor’s well, which had been contaminated by fracking. Stevens provided documents that chronicled several residential wells that had been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing. Noting that the natural gas would subsequently be piped to Cove Point, he declared, “there is no defense for this monstrosity across the street. This is the most important fight. Those who turn their back on this have no soul.’

Stevens observed that 22 U.S. senators have indicated they are opposed to LNG exports. He further noted none of Lusby’s elected representatives have stood to oppose the Cove Point LNG export project and urged the residents to “fire them!”

St. Mary’s County resident Marcia Greenberg was equally critical of the local and federal officials, comparing them to “The Three Stooges—tripping over each other’s feet to dodge the real questions.” Greenberg added that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley [D] and the PSC “aided and abetted” a corporate giant instead of protecting state residents and Maryland’s prized bay. Additionally, FERC “issued a decision that dodges issues, minimizes threats and refer tough ones to other agencies.”

A CCHC statement issued by spokeswoman Tracey Eno declared the Cove Point project “is not a done deal, it’s merely the beginning of the next chapter.”

Part of the next chapter has begun to take shape. Late last week, FERC’s Gas Branch Chief Alisa M. Lykens sent a notice to Dominion Cove Point’s Regulatory and Certificates Analyst Amanda K. Prestage indicating the company may begin to do limited work site preparation. This includes limited work in Solomons for construction of a temporary pier to be used during the three-year construction project.

“Dominion may now set up temporary construction trailers, mobilize construction equipment, and install demarcation devices and a temporary construction security fence at the LNG terminal,” Lykens stated. “We have confirmed the receipt of all federal authorizations relevant to the approved activities herein. Please note that this approval does not grant Dominion the authority to use any additional workspaces or to commence construction of the project facilities at the LNG terminal. I remind you that Dominion must comply with all applicable terms and conditions of the order and procedures stipulated in your filings.”

Dominion officials have also indicated they have made no decision about exploring the possibility of constructing a road in the Lusby area to provide nearby residents with an alternative escape route in the event of an emergency situation at the gas plant. Greenberg said citizens should demand construction of the temporary pier and staging area work be halted until the emergency route is established.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com