Harford residents 'well aware' of gas pipeline and latest expansion plan

Amid resident anger over a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut through another portion of northern Harford County, local government officials are assuring the public that they are keeping a close eye on it.

At the point in the regulatory review process, however, aides to the county executive and the councilman who represents one of the areas affected by the project say the county isn't in a position to take a stand for or against the pipeline.

"While this process is entirely controlled by a federal agency, we are keeping close watch on this project and compiling the concerns being voiced by citizens and residents in the area," Aaron Tomarchio, chief of staff to County Executive David Craig, wrote in an e-mail earlier this week.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, held a public hearing last week at Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, the community that would be most affected by a 3-mile stretch of a more than 21-mile, 26-inch-wide pipeline that would stretch from Owings Mills to Fallston.

More than 50 people showed up to the hearing May 9 and several spoke against the project, which would have a so-called Columbia Gas MB line run nearly parallel to the existing MA pipeline, except for the Harford County portion where the line would go south before meeting with the existing line at the Rutledge compression station just north of Fallston.

"We have assigned a staff member from the Department of Public Works to follow this project and to serve as the county's liaison with Columbia Gas and FERC," Tomarchio continued in his e-mail. "We are also facilitating the dissemination of information we receive from Columbia Gas and FERC to the community through the Fallston Community Council."

Although County Councilman Joe Woods, who represents and lives in Fallston, could not attend the public hearing because of a budget hearing the same night, his legislative aide, Joe Cluster, went in his place.

When asked for Woods' position on the pipeline, Cluster said Monday that council members are "prohibited by charter [to get] involved with Board of Appeals cases." The council has a dual role as the board of appeals in zoning matters.

Although the pipeline is not yet a zoning issue being taken up by the board, Cluster said for clarification, "it has the potential to become one as this project progresses through the approval process."

Cluster added that Woods is "fully aware" of the pipeline project and is closely monitoring the situation.

"A lot of people have been calling us," Cluster said about resident feedback. When a concerned citizen does contact the councilman, the legislative aide said, they refer them to federal representatives, such as Sens. Andy Harris and Barbara Mikulski, as this is a federal issue.

The ultimate goal, he continued, "is to help the constituents in getting their ultimate route," which would be one that affects the fewest number of residents.

The county executive's office has received "only a few inquiries," Tomarchio wrote. "The County is intending to compile the concerns of residents and include them in a formal letter the county will be sending to FERC/Columbia Gas. The residents concerns are our concerns as well."

While the county doesn't have much control over the process, Tomarchio went on, "we are also going to make sure that Columbia Gas obeys all the county's ordinances and regulations should they receive approval from FERC to proceed."

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