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Editorial: Pipelines’ health impact vital

  • Ron Coler of the Ashfield selectboard speaks to the state Department of Public Utilities at the eminent domain hearing at the Greenfield middle school March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt


Sunday, October 16, 2016

When Kinder Morgan wanted to build a pipeline compressor station in Northfield, many of the local concerns involved health effects from routine operation, let alone from possible catastrophic events like ruptures or explosions.

Compressors and pipelines to balance pressure in the system blow off natural gas into their neighborhoods, and the neighborhood’s residents seem well within their rights to want detailed information about those potential health hazards.

While that project is dead, there are others being considered in the state, and maybe others still in the future. So we are happy to see activists are continuing the fight.

A group of Massachusetts doctors, nurses and other health professionals have called on the Baker administration to impose an immediate moratorium on development of all pipeline projects and natural gas facilities in the state until a comprehensive health impact assessment can be performed and submitted to federal agencies to address “cumulative health hazards” posed to communities, according to the group.

Massachusetts Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas, whose members include Northfield registered nurses Karen Chase and Judy Wolter, called on Baker to add a health assessment to all environmental assessments and environmental impact statements required by state and federal agencies before development of gas pipelines can be approved.

The health professionals’ group’s call for greater attention to public health impacts comes a month after the Franklin Regional Council of Governments called on the region’s congressional delegation to also require a public health impact assessment for any pipeline, compressor, metering or venting station or related facilities as part of the review process.

Broadband by when?

We see what was once a coalition of more than two dozens western Mass. towns that was going to build, own and operate broadband internet systems in unserved towns through the region has diminished in the absence of state broadband money.

WiredWest has changed its mission from building, owning and running a regional fiber optic network to providing regional broadband maintenance and operations services, for its remaining member towns’ networks.

The change follows Mass. Broadband Institute’s withholding of money for WiredWest original concept, protracted “negotiations” and the not-so-subtle peeling away of member towns toward MBI favored alternatives in which towns, not WiredWest, owned the internet system.

Many hill towns are now working with MBI directly on the financing and engineering for broadband buildout. While Ashfield, Egremont, New Salem, Shutesbury and Wendell are the first towns getting MBI’s support to move forward, MBI continues to work with additional towns to move towards a town-owned solution.

Even locally, the original WiredWest proposal had its detractors, and we could never quite determine what was the best approach for the towns. We hope the MBI sanctioned choices, perhaps enabled by WiredWest technical support, will give those county residents languishing without high-speed internet what they’ve been thirsting for — at an affordable price.

Northfield campus

We are sure the residents of Northfield were happy to feel activity on the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus last week. Musicians strummed instruments and sang gospel songs, while hundreds of people from across New England prayed and discussed the theology of the school’s founding evangelist, Dwight Moody — all part of a Christian unity movement called “10 Days of Prayer.”

The campus, which is currently owned by the National Christian Foundation, has been vacant for more than 12 years. The foundation still hopes to gift the campus’ educational buildings to an institution that honors Moody’s legacy, while retaining several buildings to implement The Moody Center, promoting Moody’s ideals.

Emmitt Mitchell, a member of the National Christian Foundation board of directors, said, “We want to make this place open for education, for contemplation, as a retreat,” and added the foundation is “very close” to finding a new use for the campus.

The convocation, Mitchell said, is just the first step toward bringing “life and light” back to the campus.

Let’s hope so.