Volume 14, Issue 3 ~ January 19 - 25, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Mainlining Our Energy Habit up Chesapeake Bay

But not in my backyard

So many times we’ve heard that line before. Those are the first four words out of the mouths of citizens when plans are aired for prisons, jails, soup kitchens, cell phone towers, power plants, treatment plants, drug rehabilitation centers, half-way houses, housing for the poor, condominium complexes, gas stations, airports, malls, public transportation stops, saloons, parks, stadiums (as in Washington’s proposed Anacostia home for baseball’s Nationals) and auto race tracks such as the one KO’d up here in Northern Anne Arundel County a decade ago.

Everybody wants many things — to doctor the ills of society, to provide services and housing, to meet the demands of technology, to create recreational and sporting facilities or just about anything else.

Everybody knows there’s a need as population swells, people are more affluent and lifestyles change. We have to keep up with the times; we’ve gotta build and upgrade.

But not in my backyard! Or anywhere near it!

The objection varies according to the proposal. Some are concerned about parking, traffic and crowds; others worry the projects will attract, shall we say, less attractive citizens, rowdyism, escapees. There’s always a reason for fiery and stubborn objections as to why the project should go elsewhere.

Out Deep Creek Lake way in Western Maryland, they howl about erecting windmills on the mountain tops to generate electricity. Windmills would impair the scenery, cry those who have already deforested the mountains to get a better view of the countryside and the lake from their new ostentatious castles, townhouses and condominiums.

A man’s home is his castle, wrote Sir Edward Lake in 1628. We seek to rule not only our fiefdoms but anything near it for the safety, welfare, convenience of our families — and of course with an eye on property values. Generally, our home and land is our biggest investment.

But where do the things go that nobody wants near them? Do we fill more wetlands, cut more woodlands, build more roads and other infrastructure? Or do we just dump ’em in neighborhoods where the citizenry has less sway and political clout to stop what we call progress?

Not in My Bay and River

Over the past 30 years or so, I haven’t had much occasion to scream not in my backyard! here on the shores of Stoney Creek. North Arundelians had to swallow construction of a sardine-packed housing development on what was woodlands on the other side of the creek a couple decades back. Nearly 10 years ago there was the controversy about building a NASCAR track several miles up the road, but we ducked that bullet.

Now out of the blue comes a shocker, and coming up is my turn to shout not in my backyard! Not in any backyard! I want to shout, but this early in the game, reason restrains me. Surely it has to come, but where? No one wants it, but in these days of increasing demand for energy, it’s probably necessary.

Perhaps you read Paul Adams and Meredith Cohn’s front page story in Saturday’s Sun, reporting the planning of a liquefied natural gas plant in Baltimore County.

Baltimore County? What’s that got to do with me, whose spread is in Anne Arundel County? Several things, all flowing from my concern for the Chesapeake and the Patapsco. I live on Stoney Creek at the mouth of that river, and from my backyard I can see the proposed LNG site.

It’s on the other side of the Patapsco, a busy river, the gateway to the City of Baltimore and the Port of Baltimore less than 10 miles up the river. Across the river from the proposed sites are two existing BGE power plants. It’s a small world.

I’m in a quandary. I don’t want to cry not in my backyard, though I’d rather not have huge tankers ferrying potentially dangerous LNG close to my house. But there could be security problems. Also my fishing in the Patapsco could depend on supertanker schedules, as small craft are shooed away as the big ships approach, as at the LNG plant on the Bay at Cove Point. And my property value could be affected as more commerce and industry moves in. Especially an LNG facility.

Yet I can handle all that if need be. After all, more energy is essential in our country as well as in China and other modernizing nations, where the demand is skyrocketing. My foremost concern is for the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. Can they handle it?

Energy or Environment?

Here’s the pitch: Global power supplier AES Corp. wants to build its $400 million terminal at the old Sparrows Point Shipyard. To do so would require much dredging and who knows what else to accommodate the supertankers that carry the liquefied natural gas.

There would be a complex of pipelines and huge storage tanks on the shores of the Patapsco, just a long cast from its confluence to the upper Chesapeake Bay. This is not like isolated Cove Point’s LNG plant where the only big neighbor is the Calvert Cliff’s nuclear generating plant. This site is a mix of residences, commerce and industry. And it’s another target for terrorists.

The Sun reported about 95 percent of power plants built in the past decade were powered by LNG, about a quarter of the nation’s energy consumption involves it — and demand is expected to triple by 2020. So much for the argument to build.

But what about the ecology of the Patapsco and the Chesapeake?

Consider this: Where would we put the 2.5 to four million cubic yards of dredge spoils needed to deepen and widen shipping channels to accommodate the supertankers? Spoils from the Baltimore Harbor area are notorious for their toxics, metals and all kinds of other undesirables; recycling would cost $25 to $30 per cubic yard — possibly $160 million more from our pockets.

That’s once all the gunk is dredged up from the bottom of the Patapsco. But let’s look ahead of that. What about what goes on with the actual dredging? How much of the ugly sediment can be contained during the process? Remember, not far away the Patapsco flows into the Chesapeake. What about marine life in the river while all of this churning up the evil bottom goes on?

Community meetings are being scheduled in Baltimore County to familiarize residents with the proposal. But what about Anne Arundel County? There are two sides to the Patapsco, and we are on one of those sides. Yet I’ve not heard a peep from County Exec. Janet Owens. Her domain also covers more of Chesapeake Bayfront than does Baltimore County.

What’s her thinking? Will not in my backyard come from her?

Enough asked.

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