Maryland blocks access across Western Maryland Rail Trail for gas pipeline

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.

Western Maryland Rail Trail at Berm and Locher Road.

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indicates the TransCanada easement was supposed to be considered at their December 19, 2018 meeting, but the item was withdrawn.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.

A section of gas pipeline plans, as submitted to FERC.

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

statement.

“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.”

 

6 Comments

  1. bibi on January 3, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Thank goodness. Thank you Governor Hogan. How I wish Governor Justice had the foresight that you do. Our grandchildren will thank Hogan and swear at Governor Justice for not taking care of our planet.

  2. george miller on January 3, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Mountaineer might have to figure out another use for this pipeline . Sad to see how our single party power structure engineered the State’s EPA and related agencies to roll over and accept the proposal in spite of the public rejection and objections . The good honest folks of this our Mountain State have been ignored time and again . The persons in office are more concerned with catering to the elite of industry . The jobs this generates is few the profits to industry are huge .We rob ourselves by electing only one side of the political spectrum . debates usually result in intelligent compromises which benefit most of the public .

  3. Helen on January 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    I’m liking Governor Hogan more and more. Good to know that there are some governors who think about the good of the citizens and the environment before thinking of political payoffs.

  4. Tanya on January 3, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you Governer, so much. As a resident of Jefferson County, WV, I assure you a majority of us are very grateful for your tenacity and decision in this matter. Governer Justice is a scandalous individual and doesn’t care about the health and safety of his constituents. I would be very proud to reside in your State, under your advisement and overseeing. Perhaps you should consult and teach our Governer what a true leader looks like. Thanks to all three who voted unanimously on this sensitive issue.

  5. Jeff on January 3, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I wouldn’t uncork the champagne yet. There is too much time an money invested in this project to stop it now. One solution available is not to bury the pipeline. Plus, now, lawyers and courts will have there say.

  6. Gail Landy on January 14, 2019 at 7:46 am

    Thank you Governor Hogan for denying an easement to TransCanada for the Potomac Pipeline. A pipeline presents many of the same risks as fracking and maybe more. With your foresight fracking was banned. A pipeline puts water for six million residents including the DC Metro. at risk. Leaks and explosions are likely over the life time of a pipeline. The karst geology on the Potomac River made in installation dangerous, risking contamination of the water from horizontal drilling. Clean energy options exist. It is both affordable, and a boom for the economy,, creating many jobs.

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