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State board OKs wetlands permit for Cove Point

ANNAPOLIS — The state Board of Public Works Wednesday gave approval to a wetlands permit needed for construction of the controversial Cove Point liquid natural gas export facility.

The unanimous decision by the state Board of Public Works disappointed a handful of opponents who traveled to Annapolis to urge officials to deny the permits until an extensive safety review of the proposed facility could be conducted.

“Disappointed is a good word but it’s not strong enough,” said Tracey Eno, a Lusby resident and member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a residents’ group that has raised concerns about the project. “They understood the gravity of this decision, and they understood if they did not allow this permit this project would not go through.”

Proponents and opponents of the proposed $3.8 million liquid natural gas facility that would be built on the existing site of a 40-year old liquid natural gas import facility agreed that the project would be derailed should the three-member board — Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and Treasure Nancy K. Kopp — not approve the wetlands permit.

All three listened to testimony that lasted more than two hours, much of it from project opponents concerned about safety and the structural integrity of the Thomas Johnson Bridge, which will be near the proposed pier.

O’Malley and Kopp cautioned those who planned to testify that the Court of Appeals decisions restricted the state board to considering only matters specifically related to the wetlands issues and mitigation of damage to natural reefs and oyster bars.

“Sometimes wetlands permits take on cosmic proportions, and this is one of those days,” O’Malley said, adding that he understood some of the testimony would “go well beyond the four corners” of what the Court of Appeals has said the board can consider in determining the approval of wetlands permits.

Eno said she believed the board should have considered the issues raised by her and other members of her community.

“I believe they should have ignored the rulings of the Court of Appeals and voted their conscience,” Eno said.

The permit allows Dominion to construct a 166-foot-long temporary pier that will be used over an 18-month period as a receiving point for heavy equipment used at Cove Point. The equipment will be off-loaded as part of 45 barge trips to the pier. Once there, the equipment will be transported 6.2 miles over land in what will amount to about 70 heavy-haul truck trips.

When the work is completed, Dominion plans to convert as much as 5.75 million metric tons of natural gas into liquid form at the Cove Point facility and ship it by tanker to customers in Asia.

The temporary pier would not be built until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues final approvals, which are expected sometime later this year.

A public comment period on the project ended last month. A final decision from the federal commission is expected before the end of the year.

Opponents, including environmental groups, say the federal permits will likely be challenged in court.

Eno, the Lusby resident and activist, said she expects her group to also look to challenge the wetland permits.

“Sometimes it’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” Eno said .