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BALTIMORE — The state approved a bid late last month to extend a natural gas pipeline to a Somerset County prison, a project that foresters said could harm their industry on the Eastern Shore.
The Maryland Environmental Service announced March 29 that Chesapeake Utilities, the Shore’s only gas provider, would build a pipeline to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, eliminating the medium-security prison’s aging wood-burning power plant.
The prison consumes about 55,000 tons of wood chips each year, about a third of the Shore’s total wood chip production, forestry leaders said.
Those leaders say they are working with Gov. Larry Hogan’s office to build a new wood-burning plant elsewhere in the region to make up for the lost business.
Otherwise, they said, the Shore could lose 50 jobs and about $7 million in yearly economic activity, including about $300,000 in payments to landowners whose forests are harvested for the chips.
“I’m still hopeful,” said Beth Hill, executive director of the Maryland Forests Association, which represents industry interests. “I think it’s possible that something else could happen, but I think that there’s not a whole lot of time to drag our feet. … Something needs to happen now.”
The state has heard the industry’s concerns and continues to work with them, said Gregg Bortz, spokesman for the Maryland department of Natural Resources.
The prison pipeline project would be part of a larger $37 million expansion to Chesapeake Utilities’ existing pipeline network, which stretches from Pennsylvania into Delaware and Salisbury.
The network is operated by Eastern Shore Natural Gas Co., a subsidiary.
It would bring gas service to Somerset, one of three remaining Maryland counties without it.
“The project will create jobs while bringing lower energy prices to the residents and businesses on the Eastern Shore. It will also significantly reduce the carbon footprint for both facilities and provide a pathway forward for clean natural gas,” said Mary Beth Tung, the Maryland Environmental Service’s director, in a statement. “Cleaner energy is the key to an improved environment and for expanded economic development for the residents of the Eastern Shore.”
The Maryland Environmental Service is a quasi-state nonprofit dedicated to environmental improvement projects.
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