Chesapeake Utilities seeks permit for gas pipeline in Somerset

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Department of the Environment’s Tidal Wetlands Division is recommending the Board of Public Works (BPW) grant a wetlands permit to Chesapeake Utilities to allow for the installation of an 8-inch pipeline to carry natural gas from Eden to Westover to serve University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI). The BPW will meet on Dec. 2 to determine the issue.

The pipe that will be run some 10.75 miles will cross 140 linear feet of three tidal tributaries — the Manokin River, Taylor Branch and King’s Creek.

The recommendation for approval cites several conditions, including all other permits and approvals such as Critical Area requirements be met, that no horizontal directional drilling occur from March 1 through June 15 to minimize impacts on spawning fish, and that a full-time independent environmental monitor be retained prior to the start of construction.

“To date, our community outreach has identified nearly 640 supportive households of the project in Somerset and Wicomico counties,” Chesapeake Utilities Corporation Public Relations Manager Justin Mulcahy said on Nov. 21. “Also to date, 71 local residents have committed to sending personalized letters of support to the Maryland Board of Public Works.”

Opposition to the plan has come from Eastern Shore foresters, who supply the wood chips currently used to produce energy at ECI, and from other organizations, many from outside the Eastern Shore.
In a virtual meeting on Nov. 21, representatives of Chesapeake Utilities said the project would provide inexpensive energy for ECI, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and other facilities. They said using natural gas would help the state reach its greenhouse gases emission goals.

There would also be a favorable economic impact, they said, including from increased tax revenue.
“Somerset really is a county that has been left behind,” Mr. Mulcahy said, noting that the jobless rate there is currently 9.1 percent, with the state’s highest rate of poverty, at 23.4 percent.

Chesapeake Utilities’ Manager of Marketing and Communications M.Q. Riding said that during construction, there would be significant indirect spending in the area, further boosting the local economy. “We see this as a partnership with the community,” she said.

A pre-construction meeting must also be held with the Wetlands Administrator and others in attendance, and pre- and post-construction water quality tests be conducted on wells located within 150 feet of the construction area.

A public hearing about the permit request was held online Sept. 17 with the comment period ending Oct. 1. Final approval rests with the BPW, which will also considering the request to approve extending a gas pipeline from Salisbury to the Somerset County line.