by Kate Shunney
Maryland’s Board of Public Works voted on Wednesday, January 2 not to grant an easement across the Western Maryland Rail Trail to Columbia Gas/TransCanada for an 8-inch natural gas pipeline.
The gas company has received state environmental approval and federal energy commission certificates to go ahead with the 3.4-mile, $25 million pipeline project, but still had to secure several other approvals in order to proceed.
An easement under the recreational walking and biking trail in the Hancock area was one of those hurdles.
The three members of the Board of Public Works – Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — unanimously rejected the request for a .12-acre easement under the Rail Trail at the intersection of Berm Road and Locher Road, roughly 1.5 miles west of Hancock.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources oversees the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which runs from Big Pool west to Pearre.
According to the Board of Public Works agenda published for the January 2 meeting, the Maryland State Clearinghouse for Intergovernmental Assistance reviewed the TransCanada project.
The agenda includes this message to board members from the Clearinghouse: “It has recommended to comply with Columbia Gas Transmission LLC’s request for a 50’ Right of Way and give permission to install and Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline under the Western Maryland Rail/Trail which is owned by the State of Maryland.”
Board members instead voted against the easement, citing ongoing environmental concerns about running the gas pipeline under the Potomac River.
The Board of Public Works agenda also indicates the TransCanada easement was supposed to be considered at their December 19, 2018 meeting, but the item was withdrawn.
The TransCanada/Columbia Gas pipeline project would feed natural gas from an existing transmission line along the Pennsylvania/Maryland border through an 8-inch pipeline to a new natural gas pipeline being built in Morgan County, West Virginia.
The line, as designed by Columbia Gas engineers, would be driven under the Potomac River just west of Hancock through horizontal directional drilling. That river crossing has been the source of major opposition from environmental groups from Western Maryland to Washington, D.C.
The entire project – from Fulton County, Pa. to Berkeley County, W.Va. — is known as the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.
Mountaineer Gas of Charleston, W.Va. is already constructing a 23-mile gas pipeline in West Virginia from Berkeley Springs to Martinsburg. They are the intended customer for the gas that would be carried by the Columbia Gas pipeline under the Potomac River.
“Mountaineer Gas is confident in TransCanada’s ability to complete this project. We feel certain that TransCanada is considering all options and will take the appropriate actions to move this project forward,” said Moses Skaff, Mountaineer Gas Vice President, in an email on Thursday.
Skaff indicated his company’s Eastern Panhandle project is nearing completion.
“Mountaineer’s pipeline project is over 95% complete and should be 100% by the end of January with the exception of the point of delivery from TransCanada,” he said.
Scott Castleman, spokesman for TransCanada, said his company would work through the easement issue.
“We remain committed to our route that has been approved by FERC. We will consider our options over the coming days to keep this project on track,” Castleman said in a written
“Yesterday’s vote denying our easement request is unfortunate. That being said, it does not change the need for, or the company’s commitment to, our Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project,” Castleman said.
“For nearly two years, our project has been studied and scrutinized by groups including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department Natural Resources. This extensive process has confirmed that through proper design and construction our project can be completed in an environmentally responsible and safe manner.”