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LNG project opponents seek emergency halt to construction

Opponents of a liquefied natural gas export facility in Calvert County are asking a federal court to halt construction until it can hear their appeal of the project's approval.

In a motion filed Monday with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, lawyers for three environmental groups say residents in the area of the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal in Lusby are already suffering from dust, noise and heavy truck traffic with preliminary construction activity.

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Dominion, based in Richmond, Va., has said it expects to finish work on the $3.8 billion project by 2017 and begin liquefying natural gas piped to the site.  The super-cooled gas would be loaded on tankers in the Chesapeake Bay and exported to customers in Asia.

According to the filing, some residents have moved and others are trying to sell their homes because of the construction disruption and fears for their safety once the LNG facility is operational. Some homes are just a few hundred feet from the facility.

The motion was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Patuxent Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The groups filed suit last month contending that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission violated federal law by failing to consider how construction of the facility would pollute the air and water and contribute to global climate change. They also complained the commission thwarted them from challenging the project before preliminary construction could begin by taking months to rule on the opponents' request for a rehearing.

Dominion issued a statement Tuesday saying it is confident the federal commission's approval will be upheld.  Federal and state regulators have rejected opponents' earlier bids to halt the project, company spokesman Karl Neddenien said.

"It should be noted that the Earthjustice appeal has been pending for weeks before this 'emergency' stay was sought," he added.

The commission concluded last September that with certain precautions it prescribed, the project poses no significant risks to nearby residents' safety and no major environmental impacts.

Since then, Dominion has built a 166-foot pier into the Patuxent River to barge in construction material. The company also has cleared nearly 100 acres of woods, the opponents contend, to create a storage area for the material and a parking lot for 1,700 employee vehicles. The opponents ask the federal appeals court to decide on their request for a halt by July 17, saying that's the date when Dominion has indicated it wants to begin laying the foundations for the LNG export facility.

Opponents have argued that the construction of a gas liquefaction plant in Lusby could lead to a catastrophic explosion and fire that could endanger nearby residents.  They also contend that exporting gas would trigger expanded drilling for it in the Marcellus shale region, increasing air, water and climate-disrupting pollution. And they assert that the bay could be fouled by dirty wastewater from an influx of LNG tankers.

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