Cove Point Opponents Strategize Legal Battle

By Sarah Fleischman, Calvert Recorder

Two out-of-state lawyers encouraged those living near Dominion Cove Point Wednesday evening to adapt their approach to opposing the controversial expansion of the plant by focusing on the everyday nuisances associated with the project, which is currently under construction.

During a Wednesday meeting of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community at Southern Community Center, attorneys Richard Middleton of Savannah, Ga., and Charlie Speer of Kansas City, Mo., told the group of about 40 people about their experience in nuisance lawsuits from those neighboring commercial activities.

Speer asserted that he and Middleton attended the meeting not to receive new clients, but to learn more about Cove Point and to teach residents about their legal options. Speer left his position at a large legal firm in favor of representing people affected by industrial activities, such as hog farming.

The lawyers encouraged the residents to take logs of any nuisances or inconveniences associated with the project and its construction, including noise, air quality issues and more. Nuisance lawsuits make more sense than lawsuits to take the project down from a regulatory or scientific angle, Speer said.

“The best thing you can hope for is to drag it out until it caves in under its own weight, its own publicity,” Speer said.

But Speer said to “do what you can.” Nuisance lawsuits hit big industry where it hurts: in the pocketbook, he said.

“The beauty of the nuisance suit is that it’s all about the people,” Speer said.

Middleton encouraged those in attendance to log their experiences with descriptive language that can be beneficial in court, but not to write down something every day because it is less believable.

Middleton said industry has no right to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of one’s own property, and Maryland law supports this idea.

“We meet the same good, hardworking people all over this country and they’ve all been beset upon by big industry who doesn’t have a personality, doesn’t have a conscience, doesn’t give a damn what happens to the people,” Middleton said.

Jon Kenney, Maryland field organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, also gave an update on the legal actions CCAN and its partners are pursuing to stop the export project at Dominion Cove Point. CCAN and other agencies filed a motion for stay. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must accept or reject the motion. FERC has not done this, but if FERC rejects it, the real legal process begins with court dates.

“It’s actually a really frustrating process,” Kenney said.

Tracey Eno, a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, read a legal update from Kelly Canavan, president of the Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Communities Creeks Council, which has been successful with legal proceedings regarding the project on a local level, including the discovery of a nondisclosure agreement between Dominion and Calvert County. Canavan’s update said the AMP council petitioned for judicial review against the Maryland Public Service Commission, which approved a generating station for the export project, but the petition was rejected so AMP council filed an appeal in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

“Keep fighting every way you can … we’re trying to slay a giant,” Speer said.

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