2017-11-22 / Front Page

Maryland officials set public hearing on waterways permit for proposed gas pipeline

by Kate Shunney

A permit that would allow Columbia Gas Transmission to build a natural gas pipeline across wetlands and through designated floodplain areas west of Hancock will be the subject of a public hearing on Tuesday, December 19 at Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

The gas company is seeking a State Nontidal Wetlands and Waterways Permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) as part of their effort to build a new three-mile, eight-inch natural gas pipeline connector from Fulton County, Pa. south to Morgan County, W.Va. That pipeline would have to cross the Potomac River in order to reach West Virginia.

The purpose of the pipeline is to create a northern natural gas supply connection to Mountaineer Gas, a West Virginia company that wants to build a 23-mile pipeline through northeastern Morgan County and into Martinsburg.

In Maryland, Columbia Gas plans to drive the pipeline under I-68, several local roads, the Western Maryland Rail Trail and C&O Canal National Historical Park and then under the Potomac River during construction.

Columbia’s application for the Maryland waterways permit includes estimates about the impact of construction on property along the pipeline route:

“The proposed project will permanently impact 127 linear feet (923 square feet) and temporarily impact 95 linear feet (1,130 square feet) of perennial and intermittent streams. The project also proposes to temporarily impact 14,885 square feet of regulated floodplain, 2,642 square feet of emergent nontidal wetland, and 8,829 square feet of the 25-foot nontidal wetland buffer.”

Some of the areas will be disturbed for work associated with the pipeline, including new construction entrances for heavy equipment, temporary and permanent access roads and construction staging areas.

Site plans, with road and stream crossings, are included in the MDE application.

The company plans to start construction in March 2018, with the goal of the pipeline being in service by November 2018.

First, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must approve the project, because it is an interstate energy project. Federal regulators are now conducting an environmental assessment of the company’s plans.

In a 169-page attachment to the Maryland permit application, Columbia Gas notes that MDE officials, “confirmed that the underground crossing of an aquatic resource via HDD technology does not require a permit.” Because of that, the company doesn’t outline impacts on water bodies that the pipeline would run under.

The application attachment includes maps of alternative routes that were considered for the natural gas pipeline. Those routes include longer connecting lines to the east, from Pennsylvania down through the Big Pool and Clear Spring areas.

Columbia also weighed the option of running the gas pipeline along the Hancock bridge in what they call an overhead or aerial crossing.

“The initial engineering assessment of a proposed overhead crossing consisting of collocating the pipeline along the Route 522 bridge found the constructability, safety, and reliability risks to be significant. Further, the relocated POD [point of delivery] to Mountaineer was not in an area Mountaineer preferred, as the POD would be located within an expanding area of residential homes. Finally, the position of the POD would place it squarely within the area known as Stonewall Jackson Hill, a landmark per the West Virginia Department of Culture and History,” the application says.

The application with maps showing property crossings and construction details is available on the MDE website on the “Wetlands and Waterways” page under “Public Information,” and at this web address: http://mde.maryland.gov/ programs/Water/WetlandsandWater ways/Documents/PublicHearing_ Colum biaGasTransmission_ EasternPanhandle Expansion.pdf.

That application and maps will be on display at the public informational meeting on Tuesday, December 19 at the Hancock Middle-Senior High School. Project plans will be on display at 6 p.m. The hearing will begin at 7 p.n. and end by 9:30 p.m.

State officials said the meeting will allow the applicant, Columbia Gas Transmission, and members of the public to “present facts and make statements” in favor of or against the MDE granting the permit.

The public can send in written statements about the permit application through the end of business on January 16, 2018. Written comments should be sent to: Water and Science Administration, Wetlands and Waterways Program, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, Md. 21230. Include the case number on all letters (201760592/17-NT-3089).

Anyone with questions about the hearing, the project or the review process can contact Paul Busam at paul.busam@ maryland.gov or 410-537-3213. Citizens can also ask to be added to the “interested persons list” to receive notices from the MDE about actions in the case.

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