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Columbia Gas sues Maryland to win easement for lateral project

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Columbia Gas sues Maryland to win easement for lateral project

Columbia Gas Transmission LLC sued Maryland in federal court after a state agency refused to give the developer an easement to proceed with construction of a natural gas lateral project already approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

After failed negotiations, the pipeline company, a TC Energy Corp. subsidiary, filed suit against the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on May 16. The developer submitted a disclosure of corporate interest to the court on May 20 providing a list of companies associated with Columbia Gas.

A proposed Potomac River crossing and other environmental issues tied to Columbia Gas' Eastern Panhandle pipeline project have sparked protests from residents and environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. Opponents were outraged by the company's lawsuit. In a May 17 statement, Brooke Harper, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, described Columbia Gas' actions as "arrogant overreach."

"We didn't expect Columbia Gas to give up on building the unnecessary and harmful Potomac pipeline, but we never expected for them to condemn Maryland's own land through eminent domain proceedings in federal court," Harper said. "As far as we know, such a corporate takeover of Maryland's public land has never been attempted before."

TC Energy had not yet responded by press time.

In its court filing, Columbia Gas said it needs the easement to accomplish the "highly complex crossing" under the Potomac River with a 4,294-foot horizontal directional drill. The company needs to meet two deadlines for the project: the July 19, 2020, expiration of its FERC certificate, and the company's contractual in-service deadline of Nov. 1, 2020. The company said without immediate access to the easement, "irreparable harm" may come to the company and its customers.

The proposed pipeline received FERC approval in January 2018, a fact Columbia Gas mentioned to the court. The developer also said it had offered the Maryland Department of Natural Resources $5,000 for the easement, which the company said is more than the amount determined by a third-party appraiser. Columbia Gas also said it had obtained most of the tracts needed for the proposed route of its project. (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland docket 1:19-cv-01444)

The project would deliver 47,500 Dth/d of gas through less than 4 miles of 8-inch-diameter line running from the Columbia Gas system in Fulton County, Pa., to a delivery point for the utility Mountaineer Gas Co. in Morgan County, W.Va. The line would cross the Potomac River from Maryland into West Virginia.