Land trust warns pipeline co. against violating conservation restrictions
Some of the survey methods that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. wants to do along its 179-mile planned Northeast Corridor would violate conservation restriction covenants, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust has written to the company.
In a letter calling on Tennessee Gas to “cease seeking permission from landowners to conduct activities on already conserved lands that would constitute violations of any conservation restriction, protections approved for public benefits and purchased at public expense,” Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood advises right-of-way agent James D. Hartman, “Landowners cannot grant permission to others to violate the terms of conservation restrictions on their land.”
Youngblood also calls representations to landowners that conservation restrictions are not a barrier to the request to survey “inaccurate,” and says those comments violate the state’s Consumer Protection Act as well as attorney general regulations concerning general misrepresentations and failure to disclose factual information.
The letter, sent Tuesday, concerns Robert and Lisa Adams of Hatchery Road in Montague, who own land, 43 acres of which are protected under agricultural restrictions held by Mount Grace and the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
“Somebody showed up on my doorstep with four pieces of paper asking for survey permission,” said Lisa Adams of her only interaction with a pipeline representative this winter. “I told them there were conservation restrictions on portions of our property and they didn’t seem to be phased by it. They said it would be non-invasive to the property and it shouldn’t be a problem. I said you’ll have to get permission from (the trust). I haven’t heard from them since.”
Mount Grace has helped conserve 27,000 acres in its 10-town area, of which it holds conservation restrictions on about 6,000 acres, including 26 acres of the Adams property.
Tennessee Gas’ pipeline survey activity, according to information distributed to property owners by the company, can include archeological surveys, wetland and stream surveys and surveys of rare, threatened or endangered species, as well as civil surveys. Geotechnical surveys, according to a Tennessee Gas information sheet, may involve a truck-mounted drilling rig boring a 3- to 6-inch wide hole to obtain soil and rock samples, supported by two to four trucks with trailers.
Youngblood quoted in her letter language from Mount Grace’s agricultural restriction on the Hatchery Road site, prohibiting “excavation, dredging, depositing or removal from the property of loam, peat, gravel, soil, sand, rock or other mineral resources, or natural deposits materials.”
She told The Recorder, “Eminent domain trumps conservation restrictions, but they’re a long way from eminent domain. As soon as they start digging, they’ve violated conservation restrictions.”
And it’s not simply the Adams property that’s affected, she said.
“Directly in line of the pipeline — and it’s an approximate route — is at least more than a dozen” properties that have been protected by Mount Grace, Youngblood said. “It crosses 10 towns of Mount Grace’s 23-town region, and in each of those towns, it goes very close to or across land we helped preserve, or other protected land.”
Tennessee Gas has advised some landowners recently who have refused or failed to grant permission for survey work that the company would file with the state Department of Public Utilities for orders to enter their property for survey work. Adams said she has not received such notification.
At a meeting with Warwick town officials this week, pipeline representatives said they plan to file with the DPU by June 1, Youngblood said.
Her letter advises Hartman that any such order granted by DPU “would not constitute eminent domain, nor would it include a right to violate any conservation restriction duly approved by (state) agencies.”
Youngblood acknowledged that it remains unclear what authority a DPU order has, but she advised property owners to participate fully in any process the DPU provides for comment.
In March, Mount Grace wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick for assurance that any pipeline path is kept off all state-owned and state-protected conservation land.
Current plans call for the pipeline, for which a formal application has not yet been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to pass through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange in Franklin County.
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