From left to right, Calvert County Commissioner Mike Hart, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Calvert commissioners Evan Slaughenhoupt and Tom Hejl are all smiles prior to the groundbreaking ceremony at Dominion Cove Point LNG Plant in Lusby.

Lusby, MD – They spoke above the din of dump trucks and earthmovers. Speaker after speaker had effusive praise for a project that has polarized Calvert County for the past three years.

When it is completed in three years, the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Liquefaction project will give the Lusby plant the capability of exporting LNG to foreign countries.

“It all starts locally,” said Dominion Energy President Diane Leopold, who thanked the Calvert County Commissioners—the current five-man board and the two former members who were serving on the panel when the project plan was first proposed.

The Wednesday, March 25 event was dubbed a groundbreaking ceremony, but it was clear to everyone in attendance that the work to construct a $3.8 billion liquefaction unit within the plant’s confines is well underway.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan [R] declared the Cove Point project “part of America’s natural gas revolution.” Noting that transporting natural gas from the Cove Point facility to Japan and India would increase by billions of dollars Maryland’s product exportations and realize millions in property tax revenue for the state and Calvert County, Hogan declared “the benefits of Cove Point cannot be underestimated.”

Like Leopold, Hogan observed that the ceremony was taking place on Maryland Day. He characterized the undertaking of such a huge construction project part of the “spirit and courage” of Marylanders.

“We want energy, we need it,” said Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, who explained that 50 percent of his nation’s fuel is imported. “This Cove Point will help Japan.” The ambassador called the liquefaction project “a foundation” to a partnership forged between Japan and the State of Maryland.

Another speaker, Kazuhiro Takeuchi, president and CEO of Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, stated, “this project is a dream come true—a big step forward with supplying Japan with environmentally friendly energy.”

Even after receiving the required regulatory approvals from Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the project continues to draw protests from some local residents and environmental groups.

Dominion Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II made mention of the journey to get the project past the approval process. Farrell noted that in March 2012, shortly after Dominion signed precedent agreements with its foreign partners, Dominion executives attended a National Energy conference in Texas. “We heard from a long line of doubters who said this project could not, would not ever be done, for any number of reasons,” said Farrell. “Along the way other doubters came forward with equally strong arguments against Cove Point. To us that chorus of naysayers served solely as background noise. During the process we were underestimated. We were also undeterred. We knew our partnership was strong, that our project would withstand the outside pressure and prevail on its merits.”

Some the aforementioned naysayers reacted to the March 25 event with criticism for Maryland’s new governor.

“The residents of Lusby are not celebrating Dominion’s ‘town-breaking ceremony today,” stated Tracey Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “It’s no surprise that this event was kept a secret until the last minute and is closed to the public ‘due to security concerns.’ If Dominion is worried about security, they should think twice about building a dangerous liquefaction train next to 20,483 residents of Lusby. We look forward to meeting with Governor Hogan to tell him the truth. We can only assume he hasn’t studied the details of the project.”

“The Cove Point fracked gas export plant will harm the environment, bring unprecedented safety risks to local residents and raise gas prices for all Marylanders,” stated Chesapeake Climate Action Network Director Mike Tidwell. “It is disappointing that Governor Hogan is standing today with a company, Virginia-based Dominion, that has repeatedly withheld critical safety information in disregard for the health and well-being of residents in harm’s way of this project. We encourage Governor Hogan to meet with the many Marylanders who oppose this project, including citizens in Calvert County.”

“This project is all about jobs,” said North America’s Building Trades Unions Secretary-Treasurer Brent Booker, who added the crews who will be working at the site are determined to have the liquefaction unit built “safely, on time and on budget.”

Booker also noted the trades unions have designated the Dominion Cove Point LNG Liquefaction project “a veterans’ project” and the workforce will include military veterans who have been trained by tradesmen.

“It [project] is important to our membership,” said Calvert County resident and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 Executive Board Member Steve Zimmerman, who explained the past four years have posed challenges for members. Zimmerman estimated about 300 electrical workers will be involved with the project during peak construction. He noted the Dominion Cove Point LNG Plant is “very safety oriented” and provides more than adequate security.

In addition to thanking project partners Sumitomo Corporation, GAIL (India) Limited, Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric Power for their leap of faith, local union stalwarts for their championing of the liquefaction plan and elected officials for their strong support, Farrell also saluted IHI and Kiewit “for their invaluable assistance in design and construction. Over the next two-and-a-half years there will be lots of activity—people and parts, working harmoniously to complete Cove Point on time and on budget.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com