Apr 02

Tractor Blockade Shuts Down Clear-Cutting at Dominion Gas Compressor Site

By Anne Meador for DC Media Group.

A Maryland woman parked a tractor at the gate of the proposed site of a gas compressor station in Charles County and locked herself to the steering wheel before dawn Monday morning, preventing workers from entering. Kelly Canavan–with assistance from her sister, her son, a local resident and two environmental activists equipped with protest signs–attempted to delay clear-cutting of trees on the Dominion-owned site before a crucial permit hearing the following day. It was the fourth day of tree-felling to clear a total of 13 acres.

The blockade started at 6:30 am with the tractor rumbling down the narrow road, turning around and re-positioning in the short driveway in the midst of a bucolic setting of trees, gurgling stream and pink-tinted dawn. Canavan slipped her arms into a lockbox device with tight sleeves which secured her to the tractor.

At least a dozen officers and nine vehicles were dispatched from the Charles County Sheriff’s Department. In addition, they launched a drone, which got caught in a tree in the lot across the street and had to be cut down. A fire truck from the Bryans Road volunteer fire department was also on the scene.

Kelly Canavan sits atop her father’s tractor locked to the steering wheel./Photo by Anne Meador

A few cars stopped to check out the tractor lock-down, and a woman who lives nearby dropped by with her four children to lend their support. This was the second time that Canavan and others had delayed work at the site; they staged a shorter blockade four days earlier.

Dominion Cove Point, LLP, which owns the site on Barrys Hill Rd., wants to build a compressor station there, which it says will help supply gas to the Mattawoman power plant in Brandywine and Washington Gas & Light service. Opponents, however, say that the compressor station is located on the only pipeline to supply the newly operational Dominion Cove Point, which exports liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan and India. It would have capacity over and above the amount needed to supply the power plant, WGL and current volume to the export terminal.

Canavan, who lives 1.5 miles away from the site, believes that a compressor station—turbines which push gas through a pipeline at high pressure–located so close to people would be “dangerous.” It would also pose risks to the community by emitting carcinogenic pollutants. The road, she argues, doesn’t provide good access in case of emergency, and she pointed out that it was flooded that very morning. There are no nearby fire hydrants.

Canavan’s parents live less than half a mile from the site. A year ago, a large out-building on their property burned down completely because fire departments couldn’t get water there. Similar fires have happened in the neighboring area recently.

Canavan winces when a police officer tugs on the lockbox sleeve./Photo by Anne Meador

To operate an industrial facility in a residential area, Dominion has applied for a special exception to zoning rules. A seventh Board of Appeals hearing on the issue is scheduled for the evening of March 13. The board has yet to grant a Dominion permit, and an application is also pending with the Maryland Department of the Environment. A federal agency gave permission to clear-cut 13.3 acres of trees on the 50-acre site.

“All I really want is for them to not do this until the BOA gets to make its decision,” Canavan told police.

Law enforcement officers tried to persuade her to leave and threatened her with arrest. MCPL McCue, the first officer in command on the scene, said the tractor–her father’s–was at risk of impoundment. Law enforcement strategized how to cut the device off her.

As several vehicles lined up and hours began to pass, one deputy continued to engage Canavan in conversation and challenge whether she had pursued all available options first. His grandparents, he said, were participants in the civil rights movement, and he debated members of the group on effective strategies to achieve goals.

Meanwhile, fed-up workers abandoned vehicles and carried in chain saws and equipment around the tractor so they could work.

At 9:30 am, police gave the first warning to disperse and cordoned off the area. At the third warning at 10 am, Canavan agreed to unlock herself and to allow police to escort her as she drove the tractor home. As she chugged up the hill, the steering malfunctioned, and the tractor veered off to the side of the road. With the police escort, she had to wait for assistance to make repairs.

She was not arrested, charged or ticketed for any violations.

The seventh hearing on the special exception permit by the County Board of Appeals will be held on March 13. The Maryland Department of the Environment is holding a hearing on March 28 to take comments on Dominion’s application for a Permit-To-Construct.