Fallston residents livid over potential gas pipeline

Many residents in attendance during a public hearing Wednesday on another gas pipeline cutting through Harford County north of Falls ton weren't afraid to let the pipeline company know it is not welcome in their community.

More than 50 people came to the hearing at Youth's Benefit Elementary School for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hearing on Columbia Gas Transmission's plan for a 21-mile pipeline that would stretch from Owing's Mills up through Falls ton.

The so-called MB pipeline will roughly parallel an existing Columbia Gas MA pipeline across the same area, except for about a three-mile stretch through Harford County, where the path of the new line diverges to the south before joining the old at the Rutledge compression station north of Falls ton.

Most of residents' concerns at Wednesday's hearing dealt with what they said was the lack of notice for the hearing itself and with the project as a whole, the desire to have a longer public comment period, the possibility of depreciating property values and the environmental impact the line could have on the community.

Columbia is in the middle of the pre-filing process to put in an application to FERC. According to the company, the extension will theoretically improve reliability of interstate natural gas service to residents and businesses in Central Maryland and surrounding areas.

Joseph Fortier was one of several residents who spoke at the hearing.

Fortier said one concern he has is the effect construction of the pipeline could have on drinking water and what would happen if there is a leak in the line. All the homes along the Harford County path of the line have private wells.

'Big rush' for permits

"Columbia is in a big rush to get permits," Fortier said. With the company's self-imposed spring 2013 start date, he wondered how a proper environmental assessment could be done in time.

As for the wooded areas and wildlife in the community, Fortier believes they will be "destroyed or hurt by this."

"Our elected officials should be here to represent us," he said, obviously frustrated.

Wednesday's pipeline hearing was held the same night members of the Harford County Council were holding their second of two hearings on the 2013 county budget in Havre de Grace – on the other side of the county.

Teresa Moore, executive director of The Valleys Planning Council in Baltimore County, asked FERC representatives to "slow down and let the public catch up."

She said her group had its annual meeting Tuesday, the same night FERC held a similar public hearing in Cockeysville, and had just learned that the right-of-way for the pipeline will be "significantly expanded" from 50 to 75 feet.

"I don't understand the need for the project," Moore said. She called the MB line a "redundancy" that is "not an urgent need," and again asked for a longer public comment period to let the public "catch up."

Doug Sipe, outreach manager for FERC, explained the commission's review process of such applications.

While the scoping/comment portion for the pre-filing portion of the process, as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act, ends May 16, FERC encourages and accepts all public comment until the company submits its application.

There is a minimum six-month pre-filing period, he added, and Columbia has been in the period for about three months.

"You have a lot of time to issue comments," Sipe said.

Arthur Romain told he crowd he "worked with gas" from 1970 to 1995, and even "watched over" Columbia pipelines.

"There's never been any problems with Columbia Gas," he said. Romain also called the MA line "one of the safest in the world."

He explained that there are no seams in the solid 26-inch steel pipe.

"You can't get much better than that," Romain said. He added that the second line is a safety precaution "to protect you."

Economic, environmental impacts

Elayne Trompeter said even though Fallston is just a "small curve in the Columbia project," the community is just as affected as the residents in Baltimore County.

"Privacy will be gone once they remove our trees," she said. With less shade, Trompeter said, utility bills would increase and property values will go down.

In addition, she said, homeowners will still need to pay taxes and maintain the piece of property the pipeline will go through but the person can't use.

Trompeter's biggest concern, which Fortier had previously mentioned, is the effect on drinking water.

She mentioned the leak at the since demolished Exxon gas station at Upper Cross Roads more than seven years ago that contaminated numerous wells in the community with methyl-tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE.

"How much does one community have to go through?" she asked.

Morita Bruce, a Fallston resident and the president of the land use advocacy group Friends of Harford, asked the audience: "Why do we need this? What is the reliability issue?"

"I don't oppose this project for altruistic reasons," said Jim Baker, who lives on Preakness Road, as he detailed the economic impact it will have on him and his property if the pipeline cuts through his backyard as the route shows.

"There is nowhere else for me to put a septic system on my property," he said, adding that the pipeline's path would also take out the 14-by-16-foot shed he built.

A real estate agent will be coming to Baker's home soon, he continued, to estimate how much the project would depreciate his property value and he doubts Columbia will be able to compensate that amount, whatever it may be.

John Davids, a homeowner in Huntington 6, a neighborhood just west of Upper Cross Roads, spoke on behalf of the homeowners association in his neighborhood.

He said the community was "still suffering from that decline" in property values that occurred after the Exxon leak.

Davids said he agreed with Romain's earlier comments that the gas lines are "relatively safe;" however, as an ex-safety officer in the Air Force, Davids observed there is "nothing absolutely safe."

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