Fire union leaders urged Baltimore County officials yesterday to work on an emergency plan with the company that wants to build a liquefied natural gas facility on Sparrows Point, even if the officials remain opposed to the project.
Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said firefighters who would be called to an accident or attack at an LNG facility deserve to be prepared - whatever the prospects of the project gaining approval.
"Politics shouldn't be interfering with emergency preparations," he said. "You can't stick your head in the sand. When the federal government says there's a need for a project like this and says, 'This is where it will be,' that's where it is."
"If there's a 1 percent chance of this happening, [county firefighters] deserve to be, and should be, 100 percent prepared," Day said.
But County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he remained unwilling to sit down with AES Corp., the company that wants to build the LNG facility on the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard. He said it would be a poor use of taxpayers' money to plan for a project that he does not believe will be built and that the community agrees would not be good for the region.
"I am standing with the people in Turners Station, with the people in Dundalk, with steel mill employees and everyone who cares about our treasure, the Chesapeake Bay," Smith said.
The LNG proposal, which includes a request to dredge the Patapsco River, is being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Neighborhood activists and elected officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, and Councilman John Olszewski Sr. of Dundalk, say the proposed LNG facility is too close to homes and schools. The historically black neighborhood of Turners Station is less than two miles from the old Bethlehem Steel shipyard where the LNG terminal would be built.
Evacuation and public notification would be difficult, if not impossible, in the event of an emergency at the facility, according to county officials, including Fire Chief John J. Hohman.
Residents in Harford County and Pennsylvania along the proposed 88-mile pipeline also have concerns about safety and environmental damage to parks and neighborhoods.
The county executive pointed out that the Coast Guard had a position similar to the county's - that the company shouldn't count on government help, because of financial and staff restraints, to provide security for the LNG transport up the Chesapeake Bay.
Smith also pointed out that the county's fire chief and the head of the state emergency management agency agree that there is no way to adequately fight an LNG fire, which is one reason they oppose the project.
"They're the ones playing politics, to suggest that they will be successful and everyone should get on board," Smith said of the company and the union.
AES officials declined to comment yesterday.
Although Dundalk residents have grown accustomed to living alongside industry, many community leaders feel that the LNG plant poses dangers that won't be offset by the jobs generated by the plant. AES officials have said the LNG plant would generate about 50 permanent jobs.
The project has support from labor groups, including the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, which estimates that the construction of the LNG plant and pipeline would generate about 375 full-time jobs for four years. AES has promised that the work would be done with union labor.
The county's fire union president said he's worried that the company would create a private security and fire service, much like the one created and later disbanded by Bethlehem Steel.