Some Pipeline Foes Speak, Others Boycott At Hearing In Hancock
Above Photo: From
HANCOCK — As people spoke against a proposed natural-gas pipeline during a hearing in Hancock on Monday, other foes gathered outside to boycott the proceedings.
More than 60 people attended the Maryland Department of the Environment public hearing at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. As they have done before, opponents raised concerns about environmental pollution, climate change and contamination of water wells.
“We all live downstream from something,” said Laura Bayer of Martinsburg, W.Va., the first of 22 speakers, all of whom opposed the pipeline.
Benjamin H. Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, spoke before public comments began. He promised a “robust” review of the pipeline application and stressed that no decisions have been made on the project.
Monday’s session, which lasted about two hours, was held to resume the hearing that was continued last month. More than 200 people attended the Dec. 19 session, which lasted three hours, and not all those who signed up to comment had time to do so.
Columbia Gas Transmission LLC, part of TransCanada, has proposed the construction of a 3.5-mile natural-gas pipeline to link a facility in Pennsylvania with the proposed Mountaineer Gas Co. pipeline in West Virginia. The fuel would serve the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
The pipeline’s Maryland section would extend an 8-inch-diameter pipe 3.06 miles through the state and under the Potomac River just west of Hancock.
One of the speakers, Linda Smith of Hagerstown, described herself as a “chemist turned pharmacist.”
“Something will eventually go wrong” with the pipeline, she said.
She referenced the first hearing, when a TransCanada spokesman said that if the pipeline leaked, methane would bubble up through the river water and dissipate into the atmosphere. She said the application was short on specifics.
“What does it mean when all that methane gets into the atmosphere?” she asked. She also questioned what effects that would have on the drinking water of communities like Hagerstown that rely on the Potomac River.
Andrew Duck of Brunswick, a Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District seat, said, ”This pipeline has no permanent benefit to the state of Maryland.”
Referring to jobs that would be created in pipeline construction, he said those people should be put to work on jobs of “the 21st century, not the 20th.” He called for solar energy to be installed on state buildings, for example, and for geothermal systems to be installed at public schools.
Michael McKechnie, president of Mountain View Solar in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said attention should be paid to renewable energy, not fossil fuels.
“There’s not a pipeline that doesn’t leak,” he said.
As the hearing started inside the school auditorium, about three dozen people boycotted outside. They had previously announced a boycott through an open letter to Gov. Larry Hogan. People were encouraged to sign an oversized copy of that letter during the rally.
About 45 minutes into the hearing, opponents carried the oversized letter, as well as signs opposing the pipeline, into the auditorium. Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper, presented the letter to the MDE hearing panel on the auditorium stage and called the proceedings a “sham.” They then left the auditorium.
About 25 minutes later, Jill Clark-Gollub of Silver Spring read highlights of that letter to the MDE panel.
It asserts that the Hogan administration “is failing to take adequate protective measures with regard to the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.”
The letter states the pipeline “would threaten the health of the millions of people who source their drinking water from the Potomac River in Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia. It would run through sensitive topography, known as karst. Karst topography provides a direct connection to groundwater, allowing for the easy migration of pollutants into aquifers and other sources of drinking water.”
The letter states that “concerned citizens and elected officials have sent more than 1,300 letters, emails and calls” to Hogan’s office, “with absolutely no response.”
Specifically, the opponents have pointed to Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. It gives states authority to ensure that federal agencies will not issue permits or licenses that violate water quality standards. The opponents state that MDE must require an individual 401 certification for wetland and stream crossings, rather than relying on a blanket permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It also states that MDE has “inappropriately downplayed the risks of this pipeline project” in a fact sheet about the proposal.
“We have very serious concerns about the impacts of this pipeline, and our concerns are shared by multiple officials from the Washington, D.C., City Council to the Board of Washington County Commissioners. Our concerns are compounded by the lack of complete information about the pipeline and MDE’s refusal to-date to request necessary information and commit to an individual (Section) 401 process. We have pursued all avenues to raise MDE’s awareness of the public’s concerns and have not received sufficient responses. As a result, we see no other option but to boycott the January 22, 2018, hearing,” the letter reads.
The panel also heard a letter from the Montgomery County Council opposing the pipeline.
After the hearing, Lindsey Fought, a communications specialist for TransCanada, issued the following statement: “We are committed to working with the Maryland Department of the Environment and ensuring they have all information necessary for its permitting process. As with all of our projects, we pride ourselves on doing things safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. We are committed to being a good neighbor and doing our part to meet the natural gas needs of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and the surrounding region.”