DPU sets pipeline hearing

Recorder Staff
Last modified: 2/5/2016 10:44:44 AM
The state Department of Public Utilities has scheduled a March 30 public hearing in Greenfield on Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s petition to require landowners to provide access to more than 400 private properties to conduct surveys for its proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.

Scheduled for Greenfield Middle School Auditorium at 7 p.m., the hearing is one of six planned around the state in response to the company’s petitions to require that landowners along NED’s proposed route — including eight Franklin County towns — grant access to perform civil, archaeological, cultural resources, wetlands and endangered/rare species surveys.

In addition to the Greenfield site — which was packed last July the last time the DPU held a hearing on the controversial project — hearings are planned March 29 at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, as well as others in April in Lunenberg, Lynnfield, Dracut and Andover.

According to the company’s November filing with federal regulators for its 416-mile pipeline, from Pennsylvania hydrofracking fields to Dracut, north of Lowell, 62 percent of Massachusetts landowners along its route have denied permission for access for surveying.

TGP has responded during the past two years with letters asking for permission to survey and informing those landowners that it would ask the DPU for such access if necessary.

The company also asked for permission in separate filings to conduct geotechnical and vernal pool surveys on other various properties.

It wants to conduct civil, archaeological, cultural resource, wetlands, water-body delineation and endangered or rare species surveys to support information in its pending application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That certificate would grant the company eminent domain powers, allowing it to seize parts of the properties along the route to create right-of-way easements.

TGP has argued that the project is in the public interest — a deciding factor in whether eminent domain can be used — because it would expand public access to natural gas in the northeastern U.S., which proponents of new pipelines claim is experiencing supply bottlenecks as demand for the fuel grows. Opponents have said they believe the pipeline’s expected capacity — up to 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas per day — is much larger than the region needs and that the true intent is to export the gas. That, they claim, could expose the gas to global commodity markets and drive up the price, not reduce it.

“I believe first and foremost they have misrepresented the need and demand for natural gas in this region,” said Stewart “Buz” Eisenberg of Ashfield, who has responded to repeated formal company requests to surveys his property with refusals and “no trespass” warnings. “I truly believe that by acquiescing to their demand for surveying, I would be advancing their process rather than slowing down what could result to damage to the environment, to agriculture, to the aesthetics of this region as well as our community and our economy. And I would be retarding progress toward alternatives to fossil fuels while advancing fracking, which is a horrible process. We shouldn’t be doing anything to advance their ability to move forward.”

In addition to about 65 Franklin County landowners listed by the company, TGP’s filing specifically addresses actions taken over the past two years by the towns of Deerfield and Conway, which have attempted to use powers granted to their health boards under state laws to ban pipeline-related activity from occurring within their borders. Twenty-two of the properties referenced in the filing are within those towns. The filing says the towns’ orders are preempted by federal law.

The company says the federal Pipeline Safety Act pre-empts the authority of any state to regulate pipeline safety, and that various state laws pre-empt the measures put in place by the town’s orders.

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