Judge dismisses suit by gas company to force access under rail-trail

by KATE SHUNNEY

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Columbia Gas in which the gas company argued it should have access to a right-of-way under the Western Maryland Rail Trail for a proposed natural gas pipeline.

In January, Maryland officials on the Board of Public Works denied the gas company access to a .12-acre tract of land that would allow the gas pipeline to run under the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The 3.4-mile pipeline route would run from the Pennsylvania line through Hancock and under the Potomac River to reach Morgan County, W.Va.

In May, Columbia Gas sued the state, seeking immediate access under the rail trail.

In response to the gas company’s lawsuit, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed an 11-page memorandum calling for the federal court to dismiss Columbia Gas’ suit.

Last Wednesday, August 21, Judge George L. Russell, III granted that motion to dismiss the case during a preliminary injunction hearing in the U.S. District Court, District of Maryland, in Baltimore.

A spokeswoman for Attorney Frosh said the judge issued his opinion from the bench.

The decision means Columbia Gas does not have access to a key parcel of land along the route of the proposed natural gas pipeline. Private land owners and other entities, including the Town of Hancock, have already signed right-of-way agreements with the gas company to permit them to build the line on their property.

Many Maryland officials have been opposed to the pipeline project due to concerns about dangers to the Potomac River during pipeline construction.

The pipeline is meant to feed a new natural gas line built from Morgan County, W.Va. into Martinsburg, W.Va. to supply primarily industrial customers in the Eastern Panhandle. Mountaineer Gas built that West Virginia pipeline last year.

Gas company officials have said they will continue to seek ways to build the pipeline, which has federal approval.

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