Pipeline activity heats up in region
Things are heating up along the proposed gas pipeline route, with informational meetings planned and several towns circulating resolutions either opposing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s “Northeast Expansion” project or to assert state and local regulations in the federally driven process.
Montague selectmen are scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m. with representatives of TGP owner Kinder Morgan Co., which has been contacting land owners along the 179-mile route between Wright, N.Y., and Dracut, just north of Lowell, cutting through nine Franklin County towns as well as parts of Berkshire, Worcester and Middlesex counties.
Montague Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio said he expects a “fairly decent turnout” for the informational meeting, given concerns expressed by several residents approached by pipeline company representatives seeking to come on their property to survey and check soils and other features. He said he recommended a larger venue, such as Turners Falls High School Auditorium, but was told that public hearings will be planned later in the process, for which there has been no formal filing yet.
The Town of Montague has rejected the company permission to survey town-owned property just outside the proposed 100-foot easement area near Millers Falls, but Turners Falls Water Commissioners on Wednesday upheld their earlier decision to allow access to their property near Lake Pleasant, according to district Superintendent Michael Brown despite being asked by some residents to rescind that permission.
Brown said he asked about the feasibility of having a pipeline located in a water supply protection district but was assured by the state Department of Environmental Protection that there would be “no risk” from a gas pipeline, and that there are no regulations governing having a natural gas pipeline coming through a water protection zone.
Abbondanzio said his understanding of the route, based on several maps that give a vague sense of the path, is that it will traverse “some pretty heavy bedrock, the Montague Plains aquifer that feeds the state fish hatchery as well as a new Turners Falls Water District well.
“There are significant obstacles,” he said, adding that the eminent domain of projects approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “worries me.”
The Franklin County Regional Planning Board is also planning a special joint meeting, perhaps in May, together with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to discuss the proposal with Kinder Morgan representatives, Planning Director Margaret Sloan said recently. The 30-inch-diameter pipeline would cut through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange in Franklin County.
The citizens group North Quabbin Energy is planning a community information meeting for April 16 at 7 p.m. in Athol Town Hall, with a presentation by Bruce Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team.
‘Preliminary, but advancing’
According to Tennessee Gas spokesman Richard Wheately, his company is currently reviewing bids from prospective gas shippers and customers received during an “open season” that ended March 28, and the project is still “preliminary, but advancing,” he said. “At some point, we’ll come back and have an announcement, a little bit further down the line. It probably will precede the (FERC) filing.”
Kinder Morgan representatives who met last month with area state legislators assured them they will follow all local and state environmental regulations, including the state Wetlands Protection Act and Massachusetts Article 97 governing state protected natural resources.
But according to information from FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, if there is a conflict between local, regional and state laws and zoning ordinances “and what (FERC) requires, the commission requirement prevails.”
That won’t stop the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions from taking up the pipeline when it meets next week, according to its executive director, Eugene Benson. He said the association will likely consider how to advise local boards that have asked about how to protect wetlands that could be affected by the pipeline, and that he plans to speak with state Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan about wetlands protection.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said his staff has been researching where state environmental laws and FERC’s pre-emption authority intersect on the issue of gas pipeline construction.
“I know that FERC has a lot of power in this situation, but I don’t know what powers the state has in relation to this,” said Rosenberg. “I know that undoubtedly the state will play its role where there are laws and conservation requirements, but the question is whether federal law will pre-empt us in the end. That will be a discussion among lawyers.”
Rosenberg, who said he has heard it will take FERC about two years to reach its decision, “so we have some time,” added that he has been “hearing quite loudly from constituents, mostly in opposition.”
Meanwhile, residents in Ashfield, Conway, Deerfield and Shelburne have been circulated petitions to bring resolutions before annual town meeting. In Northfield, an attempt to present such a resolution was halted when it was clear that the deadline for warrant articles had already passed.
Conway’s proposed resolution says, for example, that because pipeline construction “would necessitate the destruction of woodlands, trails and wildlife habitat in ... environmentally sensitive areas” and because a high-pressure gas pipeline “carries the potential for leak, rupture or other toxic environmental impacts,” potentially burdening emergency personnel, the town would oppose the project.
In Deerfield, Selectman Carolyn Shores Ness said petitioners had missed the deadline to submit an article, but that the meeting may have to be delayed because of a looming budget shortfall, and in that case, “I wouldn’t be opposed” to allowing the pipeline article to be presented.
But she emphasized, “One way or another, it wouldn’t have much impact,” and suggested instead “banding together” before the regional planning board and the COG to making a statement with more clout.
At its recent meeting, the regional planning board’s vice chair, Sam Lovejoy of Montague, told fellow members, “People have got to realize there’s a pipe in Pennsylvania, they’re booming there and the pipe is being built in New York State. You don’t have an interstate pipe pointed to a border of a state and not think this baby ain’t going to roll.”