Ashfield ‘abuzz’ over pipeline, helicopters
ASHFIELD — The Selectboard’s meeting room in Town Hall Monday night was crowded, hot and stuffy, so townspeople opened two doors for a little cross-ventilation — but not for long. Within minutes the hall reverberated with the loud buzz of a helicopter that seemed to return over and over, drowning out the Selectboard and sending irate audience members outside, watching the helicopter and making angry gestures up to the sky.
“This has been going on for two days,” one woman said angrily. Many in the group believed this and another helicopter seen around town were doing survey work along the power lines that are under consideration as part of the path for a proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. natural gas pipeline that is proposed to go through Ashfield and other towns. Several believed the low-flying helicopter, hovering over the town center at about 7:30 p.m., was an intentional act of intimidation.
Around 3 p.m. on Monday, on a Facebook page called “Stop TGP Northeast Expansion,” Gavin Scott of Ashfield posted a photo of the helicopter, which he said had made nine passes over the Town Hall, coming within 30 feet of the steeple. Another resident reported seeing a second, green and gold helicopter that made several passes above utility wires between 5 and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
When asked Tuesday if the helicopters were there for routine checks on utility lines, Western Massachusetts Electric Co., spokeswoman Priscilla Ress, said, “It was not our helicopter. We only fly in daylight, and we notify public officials and the media when we are doing inspections by helicopter.”
Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas spokeswoman Sara Loeffelholz was looking into the matter Tuesday afternoon. She said her initial reaction was that it wasn’t Kinder Morgan, but she was working to confirm those details late Tuesday afternoon. “However, we have been contracting out for aerial photos,” she added. “For this project, there have been people in the air, taking pictures.”
Back inside the Town Hall, the Selectboard accepted a petitioned article to oppose the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline through Ashfield and surrounding towns. The article was signed by 308 certified town voters, and will be on a June 23 special town meeting, along with a “Community Rights Resolution.” That resolution, which was on the annual town meeting warrant, would give townspeople “a vote on all corporate, state or federal energy infrastructure and other large-scale projects within the town as they arise.”
These would include pipeline construction, transmission line expansion, removal of ground water, large-scale solar arrays and wind turbines, and the dumping of wastewater used in the hydraulic fracturing fossil fuel mining process. This article had been postponed until June 23, so that local legislators could attend the meeting.
Newly elected Selectboard member Todd Olanyk asked why the board couldn’t just immediately take action on the petition. “Why do we have to wait for town meeting? Why not adopt this resolution now? There are more people who signed this resolution than showed up for the annual town meeting,” he remarked.
Other Selectboard members said the petition specifically asks for the measure to be placed on the June 23 special town meeting warrant, and that doing so would allow for public discussion.
Jane Shaney, who submitted the petition, said some of the 308 who signed the petition were in favor of having a public discussion, but not necessarily opposed to the pipeline. She asked that the article be posted on the special town meeting, as requested.
The resolution claims the pipeline “poses risks to water, safety and human life and heath, from leaks, ruptures and explosions” that are at greater risk along existing voltage transmission wires. It said the pipeline will result in property devaluation, force affected landowners to monitor the pipeline safety and increase electric bills. The resolution asks residents to oppose the pipeline, direct all town officials and permitting boards to oppose it, and to instruct Legislators to enact bills or take other actions to prohibit the pipeline from town.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 277
(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)