Columbia/NiSource line-mb Project Halted by Court Order

Thanks to Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun for covering the recent Baltimore County Circuit Court decision from Judge Justin King to remand the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Wetlands and Waterways Permit for the Columbia/NiSource line-mb extension project. Despite an 8,915 page record of decision that MDE provided the court to defend the permit, the court’s memorandum and opinion was critical of the permit on several important grounds highlighted in the May 5, front page Sun article and the article was also featured on B’More Green blog titled; Court halts stream crossings by natural gas pipeline in Baltimore County .

An excerpt follows:

A Baltimore County judge stopped completion — at least temporarily — of a 21-mile natural gas pipeline through northern Baltimore and Harford counties, declaring that state regulators failed to do enough to protect environmentally sensitive waterways and historic properties in the controversial project’s path.

Circuit Judge Justin J. King ordered the Maryland Department of the Environment to revise the permit it issued last year to Columbia Gas Transmission to lay a 26-inch pipeline from Owings Mills to Fallston. King said state regulators failed to spell out safeguards the company must follow in crossing rivers and streams, making it impossible to tell if the project meets state and federal water-quality regulations.

The judge also said the state didn’t properly notify affected property owners or give them a chance to weigh in on the $180 million project. And he said the agency made only a cursory check for potential impacts to historic dwellings.

The ruling issued late last week was hailed by environmentalists, who said regulators glossed over how the pipeline would affect the 81 rivers and streams it’s expected to traverse, many of them sources of the Baltimore region’s drinking water and some havens for pollution-sensitive trout.

“It will eventually have MDE and Columbia go back through and make this permit more protective of the waterway resources we’re advocating for,” said Theaux M. Le Gardeur, the Gunpowder Riverkeeper and one of the project opponents who took the case to court. “I can’t really tell folks where the pipeline should go, but if they do put it in, they should put it in in the right way.”

The company sued dozens of Baltimore and Harford county property owners last year, invoking eminent domain so it could do pipeline work on more than 400 acres after failing to reach agreements with the owners on access to their land and compensation for the disturbance.

To date, the pipeline has been laid from Fallston to the eastern edge of Oregon Ridge Park near Shawan and Beaver Dam roads, LeGardeur said, with one of the most pristine streams in the state next to be crossed. Advocates for the 1,000-acre county park had complained that the pipeline will destroy a swath of mature forest, disrupt wildlife and possibly degrade a popular swimming lake.

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