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Planning Board Agrees: Liquefied Natural Gas Facility Won’t Make a Good Neighbor
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by Imani Kazana | 2005

On September 22, the Maryland Parks and Planning Commission’s Board denied Washington Gas’s request for a permit to open a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, accepting their staff’s recommendation and endorsing the overwhelming opposition of community members and leaders. The public hearing was packed with residents of Avondale, Chillum, Hyattsville, Lewisdale, Mount Rainier, Camp Springs, Cheverly, and Green Meadow; three city mayors; three state delegates; Washington Gas Company union members; Congressman Van Hollen’s staff; firefighters and first responders and Sierra Club volunteers. The Planning Board agreed that the proposed LNG facility was inappropriate for a densely populated, residential neighborhood. The permit request is now in the hands of the County Zoning Hearing Examiner.

Washington Gas Company has requested a special exception permit to convert the Chillum Natural Gas Facility at 2130 Chillum Road to accommodate LNG. This facility operated for 66 years, until the two natural gas storage tanks were demolished in 1999. Now the company wants to renovate the facility and create an LNG processing plant and storage tank. But LNG is a dangerous substance that can produce a cloud of explosive natural gas when it comes in contact with air or water. When it interacts with electrical wire or heat, it can result in intense fires. More than 3,000 people of various ethnicities and backgrounds live within 2,000 feet of the proposed facility, and the West Hyattsville Metro station is only 1,500 feet away.

“Today was a successful day,” said State Delegate Rosetta Parker. “The Planning Board responded to the concerns our citizens had for their safety and their families. We are confident that the County will stand with us, because they know locating an industrial facility in a residential neighborhood is wrong.” 

Washington Gas Company’s lawyer spent only enough time at the hearing to claim that the board had no jurisdiction over their proposal, then left without listening to the community’s concerns. Company staff would not respond to questions, and did not turn in the appropriate documents to the Planning Board. This behavior is consistent with the Gas Company’s determination to squash public opinion and gain the permit through any means possible—including keeping plans hidden from the community and filing a last-minute legal action challenging the jurisdiction of the Planning Board. That request was  denied.

“Washington Gas continually asserts that Prince George’s County, the site of their proposed facility, has no jurisdiction over them. They think they know better than our Planning Department experts and the residents they are endangering,” said Stuart Eisenberg, co-chair of the Washington Gas Watch Alliance. “With no public discussion or community planning input, the Company is attempting to locate an industrial facility in a residential area. Washington Gas has learned none of the lessons of this post-9/11 world.”

“It does not make common sense to place such a volatile storage facility in the middle of a heavily populated residential area,” said Mount Rainier mayor Malinda Miles. “Regardless of the safety precautions that will be built in, the risk is too high for human life, future commercial growth, and the protection of our communities. The threat of terrorism is real, and much on the minds of those who live the Washington Metropolitan Region.”

Aside from the possibility of natural disasters, this fear of terrorism is legitimate. We are still watching the levee catastrophe in New Orleans, where citizens were told the risk of flood was small. But forces of nature aside, as coordinator of the LNG Action Group, I agree with Miles’s assessment. We think of the truck bomb in Oklahoma and the airplanes on 9/11. No one expected these attacks. A hazardous facility that could be a terrorist target must not be built in our midst, just because the Gas Company claims that there is little chance of catastrophe. Washington Gas is asking us to risk the lives of our families.

Betsy Johnson, chair of the Maryland Sierra Club, supports us. “What we want,” she stated, “is what is reflected in the general plan for the Hyattsville community: a mixed-use, transit-oriented, attractive, walkable community. The residents deserve it and they should have it.”

The Washington Gas Watch Alliance and its partners will present their case to the Zoning Hearing Examiner on December 7, 2005. For more information, contact Imani Kazana at 301-779-6948.  n


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