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Judge strikes down Cove Point zoning ordinance

Bryan P. Sears//Daily Record Business Writer//August 12, 2014

Judge strikes down Cove Point zoning ordinance

By Bryan P. Sears

//Daily Record Business Writer

//August 12, 2014

An ordinance exempting the proposed Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas export facility from Calvert County zoning regulations has been struck down by a judge in Calvert County Circuit Court.

In the 17-page ruling released Monday, retired Court of Special Appeals Judge James P. Salmon said the 2013 ordinance violated uniformity provisions of Maryland’s land use law and constituted a special law that violates the Maryland Constitution.

The Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Communities Council Inc. filed suit against the Calvert County Commissioners in November, just one day after the commissioners voted to approve an amendment that exempted liquid natural gas import or export facilities from local zoning laws.

The 40-year old Cove Point plant, originally built as an import facility, is the only liquid natural gas plant in the county.

Salmon, in his ruling, wrote that the Maryland Constitution “applies so as to forbid the enactment of an ordinance like the one here at issue because the general law for Calvert County set forth in the zoning ordinance is modified by a special law applicable to one land owner.”

But Salmon also wrote that he did not believe his decision would derail the project. “It must be emphasized, however, that my ruling in this case has no direct bearing on whether the facility will be built or not,” he wrote.

“In Calvert County, the issue of whether Dominion should be able to build an LNG export facility, is to say the least, quite controversial,” the judge wrote.

The decision underscores a division in the community surrounding the proposed facility. A handful of opponents traveled to Annapolis last month to oppose a wetlands permit for a temporary pier for the facility. But some in the community have said they welcome the promise of economic benefits brought by the facility.

Opponents of the project applauded the ruling and said they expected it would cause delays in the construction of the Lusby facility by Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion Resources.

“At a minimum, this ruling will likely cause real delay in the ability of Dominion to begin major construction of this controversial $3.8 billion fossil fuel project,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The ruling should certainly give pause to the Wall Street investors that Dominion is seeking to recruit to finance this expensive, risky project. As fracked-gas exports grow increasingly controversial nationwide, we believe the court ruling in Calvert County this week is just the opening step in exposing the truth about this unsafe, climate-harming, and economy-damaging facility.”

Karl R. Neddenien, a Dominion spokesman, declined to comment on the details of the ruling and its potential impact on the $3.8 billion project.

“We are reviewing the decision in detail and do not see any schedule impact,” Neddenien said.

State and federal regulators earlier this year said they found no environmental or safety issues with the project, and the state’s Board of Public Works last month approved a permit for a pier to be built at the Lusby site to allow Dominion to bring in construction equipment. The project still needs a final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


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