Debate heats up on both sides of Potomac over proposed Dominion Energy compressor project

Debate heats up on both sides of Potomac over proposed Dominion Energy compressor project. (WJLA)

For Osman Kivrak and Teri Lazar, husband-and-wife musicians, their rural Charles County home is an enclave, a peaceful getaway.

“The reason we moved here was we’re musicians and we like it quiet,” Lazar says.

But as it happens, the couple’s house and 22 acres of land sit right next to the site of a proposed Dominion Energy liquid natural gas compressor.

They fear that noise and air pollution may be coming.

“Of course the air pollution,” Lazar says unhappily. “We won’t be able to live here if it’s built. We’ll have to move. I can’t imagine anybody would want to live here.”

In April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a plan to construct and operate the Charles Station Compressor Station, as part of Dominion’s Eastern Market Access Project.

The $145-million, 13-acre compressor facility would pump liquid natural gas through a pipeline running through the area.

“This facility is designed to provide gas to our northern Virginia and southern Maryland customers,” says Karl Nedtenien, a Dominion Energy spokesperson. “We’ll be operating the facility in compliance with regulations with the state by the EPA that are extremely strict.”

Back in 2017, the Charles County Board of Appeals denied Dominion’s request for a special exception to build the station at the proposed site, which is in a rural conservation zone.

It’s also close to the 5000-acre Piscataway National Park.

Right now, the facility still needs air and water permits.

But just this week, the project is getting some pushback.

“We’re close enough that if there’s any pollution, we will be affected, I assure you,” says Michael Leventhal, the president of the Moyaone Reserve Homeowners Association.

Leventhal is among a group of area residents calling for an independent health assessment of the compressor project before state regulators approve it.

“The carcinogenics and the toxins that are going to come out of that plant, by the nature of the process, are harmful to all the people and the plants around it,” he declares.

But neighbors aren’t the only ones voicing concerns about the Charles Station compressor.

Across the Potomac River, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is running a campaign called “Save The View.”

“Dominion Energy is moving full speed to locate a natural gas compressor station that threatens to forever mar and blemish Mt. Vernon’s historic and pristine view,” says Sarah Mills-Caulson, an association spokesperson.

The group cites government filings indicating the compressor’s smokestacks would be as high as 113 feet, well above the tree canopy, and in the direct line of sight of the historic estate.

“This would be the first instance of industrialized use, it would be in a rural conservation zone,” Mills-Caulson says. “It would be a real blemish, a real eyesore.”

Not true, Nedtenien says.

“The facility we’re building is specifically designed to be no more than 50 feet tall at the tallest point,” he says. “You can’t see the site from Mount Vernon, even from the highest point.”

The shorter stacks might be good news for the historical estate, but for the compressor’s neighbors, not so much.

Some fear pollutants, trapped under the tree canopy, might spread throughout their neighborhoods.

“Our trees are about eighty feet high,” Lazar says. “Basically where Dominion wants to build is like in a hole. This is going to trap all the air pollution, especially if they’re fifty feet high.”

Finally for some, there are concerns about what would happen if there is an explosion or fire at the compressor facility.

“If there’s a fire, there’s only two volunteer fire departments to take care of it,” Levanthal says. “Only one of them has a pumper. There are no water hydrants nearby.”

This debate appears far from over.

Besides the need for the two state permits, the project is also at the center of two lawsuits.

The Ladies’ Association is hoping to convince Dominion to move the project elsewhere.

But that doesn’t appear likely.

“It’s not something you can site anywhere,” Nedtenien says. “It’s very specific. We’ve chosen this sight carefully, to avoid impinging on the view shed from Mt. Vernon.”

Nobody seems prepared to give a timeline on when, or if the compressor plan moves forward.

Dominion says despite concerns about the proposed site, the utility wants to be a good neighbor.

“Our goal is regional,” Nedtenien says. “Be safe, and responsible for our customers.”

Doug Bradburn, President and CEO of the Mount Vernon Estate, hopes there’s a path for all the parties to reach an agreement that works for all.

“Anytime there’s pressure of development, or in this case, this compressor station, we’re worried that it might be the beginning of the end of this very fragile balance over there,” he says.

Finally, Lazar says she doesn’t want to move.

But if the compressor is built, she says, she will.

“There’s no reason to stay here. We already have a really long commute to work. The only reason to live down here was because it’s quiet and peaceful,” she says.

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