Gas pipeline opposition groups forming coalitions

Last modified: 10/29/2015 9:43:36 AM
The fight against Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct project has been morphing.

The nearly 415-mile pipeline, which would cross eight Franklin County towns on its path from Pennsylvania shale fields to Dracut, north of Lowell, and beyond, has been controversial since it was first unveiled in early 2014, with formation of umbrella opposition organizations like No Fracked Gas in Mass and Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network (MassPLAN).

Now, as proponents prepare to file their formal application with federal regulators next month, local opposition groups have formed in nearly every town through which the pipeline passes. And those towns are working to form a Massachusetts coalition, similar to ones that already that have been in place in New Hampshire and a 14-member Northeast Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition in eastern Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, training in nonviolent direct-action tactics has taken place in preparation for rallies held Oct. 18 in Plainfield, with another gathering planned this coming week in Northfield and more likely to be planned by groups in the months ahead.

Deerfield and Montague agreed last week to join a new Municipal Coalition Against The Pipeline, following Ashfield, Northfield and Gill.

Conway is expected to join the coalition, which organizers hope will combine their individual town opposition into a force with added clout.

“We have a very unique role to play, and that’s why we set ourselves up as separate from other organizations,” said Northfield Selectboard member Jed Proujansky, who is chairing the coalition. “It would be inappropriate for a municipality to take a vote to violate the law like a group of individuals can. That’s why it’s important to separate the municipalities from other organizations. When we want to talk to legislators, and say we have 50 people here who want to cause you to do something, it’s very different from when I say we have 50 towns.”

On the other hand, Proujansky said, it’s important for the opposition groups to coordinate strategies and share information as “a cross-pollination of ideas.”

The coalition, which is planning a meeting tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Northfield Elementary School cafeteria, at the same time pipeline proponent TGP has scheduled an informational gathering in the school gym.

The coalition formed after months of meetings of a Franklin Regional Council of Governments pipeline advisory groups at which the eight Franklin County towns along the designated route, along with lone Hampshire County town Plainfield met to discuss a shared strategy on which the COG has remained neutral.

The COG group followed the example of Berkshire County, where the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission has formed a coalition that has focused on drafting model host agreements with the pipeline company, trying to help each town along the route there negotiate the best outcome if the nearly $6 billion project is built.

After Plainfield and affected Franklin County towns — Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick — balked, the COG backed away from asking towns to contribute to hiring a lawyer to help them draft agreements, saying they don’t want to concede defeat to the project, for which TGP says it plans to file a formal application Nov. 20 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Although Ashfield has continued to press for the regional body to take a position against the pipeline, COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy says it hasn’t taken a stand, believing that remaining neutral shows FERC that it remains “thoughtful and careful” in its comments.

But she added that she expects that at some point — possibly in conjunction with next month’s formal filing with FERC or after an environmental impact statement is released next year — the COG will consider whether to take a position on the project. Greenfield, which has a weighted vote on the council, could play a key role in that vote.

Until then, the COG has hired an attorney, Carolyn Elefant of Washington, D.C., who has advised it in its comments for what needs to be addressed in the environmental impact statement and will review the scope of the draft environmental statement when it is released, with technical experts analyzing that environmental report and weighing in if they find components missing on air quality, water quality, noise or other issues.

Elefant will also help the COG draft its filing to intervene in TGP’s application, as well as individual filings by the affected towns. Deerfield, Erving, Northfield and Conway have committed to helping the COG pay for the legal and technical expertise, said Dunlavy.

Meanwhile, pipeline opponent Hattie Nestel of Athol has been offering nonviolence trainings to fellow opponents who want to take part in vigils and protest actions, which she expects to become more frequent as the pipeline moves through the regulatory system. Vigils already occur nearly every day of the week — Thursdays and Saturdays in Northfield, Tuesdays and Fridays at the TGP and Berkshire Gas offices in Pittsfield, Wednesdays in Winchester, N.H. and a “call to prayer vigil” Monday evenings “wherever you are, for the best outcome,” in the words of Rosemary Wessel of No Fracked Gas in Mass.

“I’ve noticed a large step-up in the last month or so, with more people wanting rallies to voice their opinions,” Wessel said. As the route becomes better defined, and the formal filing becomes imminent, “I think that’s pulling in more people to say they’re not going away, and we aren’t either.”

With anthems like Tom Nielsen’s “Ain’t Gonna Pass” Moonlight and Morning Star’s “Now is the Time to Stop the Pipeline,” Franklin County folk musicians are providing the backdrop for rallies like the Oct. 18 gathering of 80 people from across western Massachusetts at the Plainfild Town Hall and at a Plainfield farm where the TGP plans to use as a construction staging area beginning in early 2018.

“People are ready, I think, to be more aggressive, “ said Nestel, who has participated for years in ant-nuclear protests as others have used a more formal process with federal regulators. A training she ran last weekend attracted about 100 protesters, many of whom were involved in nonviolent demonstrations going back to the construction of the Seabrook, N.H., nuclear plant.

“We’ve had a lot of experience going to these open houses with (TGP parent) Kinder Morgan, which are never fruitful, we never get straight answers, so there’s no point having a conversation with them, so I think this is a dead end. I think we’re getting angrier and angrier. ... There’s no reason to think that FERC will do the right thing.”

Nestel believes that with 55 communities formally opposed to the pipeline, “I think there’s much stronger opposition than there ever was to Vermont Yankee, because more people are involved. It’s a strong movement, and I don’t know if that’s going to matter. But I think if any state can stop a pipeline, it’s going to be Massachusetts.”

MassPLAN Director Kathryn Eiseman of Cummington, who is also president of an umbrella opposition group involved in New Hampshire, said, “People are opposing the pipeline in different ways. Some people are fighting system, some people are fighting within the system, some people are fighting to change the system and, for some people, it’s combination of those. There’s room for everyone in this movement.”

But while passions against the project, which opponents contend is not needed and believe will deepen dependence on fossil fuels, “are starting to bubble over,” Eiseman said, people have been telling her and Wessel, “Just tell me when the bulldozers arrive, and I’ll be there.”

She adds, “That’s been frustrating, because, of course, we think there’s so much to be done to prevent the bulldozers being there.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.


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