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New hearing set on controversial gas pipeline through Baltimore County

Baltimore County residents have another chance to speak up about a controversial natural gas pipeline that was recently halted in mid-construction by a court ruling.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is holding a public informational hearing Monday evening in Owings Mills on a request for a permit by NiSource/Columbia Gas Transmission to finish a 16-mile stretch of pipeline across the county. The company has already finished another 5.5 mile portion, mostly in Harford County.

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A Baltimore County judge effectively halted work on the pipeline last month after finding that state regulators failed to give the public an adequate chance to weigh in on the $180 million project. Circuit Court Judge Justin J. King also faulted the state for not doing enough to protect environmentally sensitive waterways and historic properties in the pipeline's path.

The project, intended to provide backup gas supply for homes and businesses north and east of Baltimore, would cross dozens of streams, as well as some fresh-water wetlands and floodplains. Environmental groups have complained that state regulators didn't properly weigh the impacts on the streams, many of them sources for the region's drinking water and some havens for pollution-sensitive trout.

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"I'm very hopeful that folks interested in drinking water impacts of the project will come out and finally be able to voice their concerns," said Theaux LeGardeur, the Gunpowder Riverkeeper, who went to court to force a reexamination of the project.

MDE and the company both have appealed the Circuit Court's ruling, but MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said that in the meantime, regulators are obliged to follow the judge's instructions that they reopen the permit.

State regulators are weighing whether to require the company to tunnel the pipeline under several stream beds, or let the company lay the 26-inch pipe in a trench excavated in the stream bottom.

"Horizontal directional drilling," as tunneling is known, is less likely to stir up mud and disturb fish in the streams. But it is more costly, and it requires greater disturbance of land - which in at least some cases draws objections from property owners.

The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in the Rockland Center banquet room of Stevenson University, 100 Campus Circle, Owings Mills. Posters explaining the project will be on display beginning at 6:30 p.m.  The public comment period will remain open until July 8.

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