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Controversial Columbia Gas parallel pipeline under construction in Harford

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Construction is proceeding on a $180 million expansion of Columbia Gas Transmission's natural gas pipeline network in Harford County, as legal representatives for the company and Fallston-area landowners continue to determine procedures to compensate the owners of property obtained to build the pipeline.

In June, a federal judge in Baltimore granted Columbia Gas access to the properties, Carolyn Elefant, a Washington, D.C., attorney for Fallston-area landowners, said Tuesday.

"The parties are just moving ahead with the next step to have the compensation determined," Elefant said.

The company, which is part of the Houston, Texas-based Columbia Pipeline Group, sued landowners in Baltimore and Harford counties earlier this year to gain access to their properties along the 21-mile pipeline route.

The project, which Columbia Gas calls the Line MB Extension, involves building the a backup transmission line nearly parallel to the company's MA line between Owings Mills and the Rutledge Compressor Station in Fallston.

Columbia representatives have stated previously the extension is planned to end at the compressor station off Route 152.

Construction equipment was visible along Hess Road Tuesday and the pipe is laid along the ground in the estimated path it will be buried underground.

Residents, including those living along Hess Road and in the nearby Woodsbrook community, have spent more than a year fighting the project; they have expressed concerns about the impact on their property values, safety and environmental harm.

"There's really nothing to fight at this point, but they have a constitutional right to compensation," Elefant said.

She said both sides are working to determine whether compensation will be made through a trial or a settlement.

"It's too early to tell now," Elefant said. "There's more information that has to be exchanged."

She declined to provide more details about which landowners she was representing.

Regulators with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, approved the project in November 2013; it also had to be approved by the state.

"We find that the project should not significantly affect landowners and the surrounding community," commissioners with the agency stated in their decision.

Columbia officials could not provide comment before press time Tuesday.

"Safety is our top priority from the design and planning of a project, to construction and operation," company officials state in a brochure posted online. "We work to maintain a safe pipeline system by educating our employees and stakeholders, carefully planning projects and maintenance, keeping our rights of way clear of obstructions and closely monitoring our facilities and conducting regular inspections."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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