100 attend Northfield pipeline meeting
Union members show up to support jobs; board likely to vote against project
Over 100 people attended the Kinder Morgan informational meeting in Northfield on Tuesday at the Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
Kinder Morgan's Vice President of Public Affairs Allen Fore speaks to Northfield residents on Tuesday at the Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHFIELD — Northfield residents finally had the opportunity to quiz representatives from Kinder Morgan, the parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., Tuesday night about a plethora of issues concerning its proposed natural gas pipeline, which is expected to pass through town.
The public forum, which was held in the auditorium of the Pioneer Valley Regional School, began at 7 p.m. and attracted about 100 residents from Northfield and neighboring towns. The representatives from Kinder Morgan included Allen Fore, the vice president of public affairs, Mark Hamarich, the company’s project manager, Land Manager Mike Lennon, and Curtis Cole, the company’s director of business development.
Fore delivered a presentation to a crowd of residents in an attempt to address many of the major issues that have come up in the debate over the controversial pipeline, including what it would look like, what measures were being taken to ensure public safety, and where it is expected to travel.
Fore also spoke about the lengthy process that Kinder Morgan would have to go through to get the project approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, which he said would provide ample opportunities for public input. He noted that the series of town hall-style meetings were informal, not required and were not part of that process.
“We haven’t filed a single piece of paperwork,” said Fore. “Nothing has been filed and this is all still a proposal.”
According to Fore’s presentation, the current project timeline would see service to the pipeline begin in 2018. He said the project would bring an estimated 3,000 jobs to the area.
During the question and answer period that followed the presentation, the representatives were read questions that had been collected from local residents and audience members prior to the forum.
While nearly half of the questions dealt with safety issues surrounding the pipeline, according to Town Moderator Nathan L’Etoile, others dealt with issues of noise, chances that gas would be vented or released from the system, wetlands protection and the impact of public opinion on whether or not the project would be carried out.
“We will take into account what the public says, we always do, and at the end of the day, we’ll choose a route that is the least impactful,” said Fore, in response to a question about whether opposition from the public would make them reconsider the project. “We’ve made route adjustments along the way, including small ones here in Northfield, and we will continue to do so.”
Fore noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would have “the final say in whether or not the project was in the public interest,” which would be the deciding factor in whether the pipeline is installed.
Fore also said the company was looking at the possibility of moving the route to “co-locate” it near other utilities, a measure for which he noted many of the residents in the towns the pipeline would pass through have asked for.
When asked about the aesthetic aspects of the pipeline, Hamarich noted that the entirety of the pipeline would be buried, that only the compressor stations and valves to regulate the pipe would be visible above ground, and that it would not impede recreational activities. He also said measures would be taken to reduce noise from the compressor stations.
He also said no gas would be released from either the pipeline or the compressor stations during “regular operation.”
Hamarich also spoke about the various safety measures that would be in place, including electric “cathodic” protection that would prevent the pipes from corroding, pressure tests, right-of-way length, and extra wall thickness in populated areas.
Jobs coming down the pipeline
Following the question and answer session, residents were given an hour to make comments before the town’s Selectboard. Much of the discussion centered around the jobs that the project would bring to the area. Before the meeting started, a group of orange-clad labor union members held signs in support of the project.
Tom Andrews, the business manager for the Holyoke-based Laborer’s International-Union of North America Local #596, said Kinder Morgan has signed an agreement to use local construction workers to construct the pipeline, which would take about two years, and that the area badly needs the jobs.
“We’re here to support jobs,” said Andrews. “There’s not as much work out here as there is out by Boston and in the eastern part of the state, and Kinder Morgan has signed a letter of understanding to use local residents to install the pipe.”
When an audience member asked if the agreement was binding, Andrews assured her that it was.
Northfield resident Peter Talmadge questioned the wisdom of investing in short-term jobs that would promote the fossil fuel industry instead of putting the time and resources into installing renewable energy infrastructure, such as solar photovoltaics or wind turbines.
“What use are the jobs if we’re all dead?” Talmadge asked. “We should be investing in more efficient things like solar P.V., which would produce more stable jobs, be more productive, more durable, reduce our carbon footprint, and make the world better for our children and grandchildren,” he said, garnering a round of applause from much of the audience.
In response, Andrews once again addressed the crowd, noting that his union does seek out work in those types of projects, which include the wind farms in the Berkshires.
“We chase wind jobs, we chase solar jobs, we chase all aspects of this work,” he said. “We’re not putting all our cards into the pipeline.”
At the end of the comment period, Selectboard member Jed Proujansky weighed in with a list of the pros and cons of the project, but ultimately stood against the project by calling for a resolution to oppose the project to be brought before the next Selectboard meeting.
“I know in the short term it’s not what you want to hear,” Proujansky said. “But it’s what’s best for Northfield, in spite of the lost jobs and money.”
Local governments have no say over the envisioned $3 billion to $4 billion pipeline, and while the state Legislature may have some say over its route, it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that licenses such interstate energy projects.
The currently proposed 300-mile route for the 30-inch diameter pipe cuts through Conway, Ashfield, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Warwick, Orange and Northfield.