Editorial: Don’t let fears take flight

The idea that a gas pipeline may be routed through parts of Franklin County has, to put it mildly, alarmed some of the area’s citizenry.

The reaction to requests by Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. for permission to survey property belonging to landowners from the Berkshire County line through a number of local communities has pretty much covered the spectrum. Some people want to find out more information before making up their minds, while others responded with a flat-out “no” and a vow to use every means to keep this proposal from ever landing on soil, rock or waterway in the county.

And then there’s been a reaction that descends from legitimate concern to something darker. In parts of the county it results in talk of government agents, United Nations troops and black helicopters.

In at least one case, however, the helicopter wasn’t black — nor was it unmarked.

Yet what happened in Ashfield earlier this week should have everyone realizing how foolish one can look if they allow dislike and distrust override common sense.

It began during a Selectboard meeting in which members were being presented with a petition asking the town to officially protest any possible gas pipeline. Suddenly a helicopter was heard flying over Town Hall, circling low overhead. Some of those present began to speculate that the helicopter belonged to the pipeline company and that it was being used to take aerial photographs of Ashfield as part of the survey process, thereby circumventing property owners. So low was this helicopter that the sound of its rotors made enough noise to anger some residents inside the building.

In the end, The Recorder determined that this particular helicopter wasn’t being used by Kinder Morgan. It was owned by Aerial Productions LLC out of Norwood, and had been hired to capture, what Mike Peavey, the company’s owner, said was “beauty shots” for part of a television program. “They wanted the gorgeous Berkshires and, boy, we got it,” Peavey said of his filming.

He did apologize for disturbing people and explained that he thought that the production company had alerted the various towns about their visit. Unfortunately, turned out not to be the case.

The incident is an important lesson that people refrain from connecting the dots where none exist.

That could lead to eying visitors with suspicion.

That’s not exactly the kind of welcome that helps the tourist trade or a community’s reputation.

Again, there are reasonable responses to the idea of this pipeline, such as the forum held earlier this week in Greenfield, and there are legitimate avenues for those who oppose it.

We cannot allow our fears take flight.

In response to your editorial of Saturday - When a corporation as large and powerful as Kinder Morgan approaches individual landowners for survey rights without ever having contacted our local town government, it is understandable why citizens were concerned when an unidentified helicopter flew exceedingly low over our Town Hall last Monday evening. Earlier that same day, another unidentified helicopter had also flown low over Kinder Morgan's proposed route for the natural gas pipeline. That's a lot of helicopters in one day in a small town. Whether undertaken for artistic or corporate purposes it is reasonable to expect that we be forewarned and permission be requested when companies decide to hover over our town center. Ashfield citizens disturbed during a select board meeting responded appropriately to this intrusion.

Don't let the truth take flight If you are going to judge people's reactions, find out the whole story first. For starters, it did not "begin during a Selectboard meeting." The helicopter buzzing the day before (explained in message from Naumkeag13) WAS conducting aerial surveying along the proposed pipeline route. The film company helicopter on the day of the Selectboard meeting had been flying extremely low over the center of Ashfield FOR HOURS BEFORE THE MEETING. As a result, many of us attending the Selectboard meeting had been dealing with this harassing activity all afternoon before arriving at the meeting. When the film crew resumed buzzing up and down Main St. multiple times during the meeting, hovering at one point over Town Hall, it was the last straw. The pipeline and film company helicopters both had cameras mounted on the front of them. Both looked very similar except for color. Our officials were not notified in advance about the film crew's plans to get "beauty shots" and therefore calls to the police or our officials provided no answers as to what was going on. Having film crews flying overhead for hours is not exactly a common occurrence in the hilltowns. Pipeline helicopters on the other hand, have been buzzing over Ashfield since last fall. For all these reasons it is completely understandable why some people in town came to the conclusion they did. Your editorial shows how foolish you look when you draw conclusions based on half the facts.

There were two helicopter events over that weekend. One was a green and gold helicopter hovering along the electrical grid. It had a phone number and name, and the website said "aerial surveying". Your reporter confirmed that "pictures" were being taken by the corporate entity proposing a high pressure pipeline through private property. Four or five passes on Sunday from 5-6- woke people up, and disturbed their Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't low. The second helicopter, which was buzzing the town, was a local film crew. This was discovered almost immediately after the town meeting, and a letter to Diane Broncaccio through your website was sent to clarify, nearly immediately after the event on Monday, and well before the article went to press. Residents, a great many, in the town of Ashfield, were completely surprised in February of this year that their home values, and their safety are at risk, just from having a card placed on their door: with no prior warning, and no policy discussion as citizens. They have been further surprised to learn how little oversight, and how much power these private entities have in taking wealth and endangering families. I believe that if any member of this editorial board was faced with this debacle, they would feel very frightened and intimidated too. Our constitution is preambled with the words "without surprise, or fraud" as part of the manner in which we covenant as communities of human beings in Massachusetts. The editorial board can perhaps appreciate how dehumanizing these events have been to human beings.

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