Gill, Northfield send money to help Montague fight pipeline

Each allocate $5,000 to county’s only municipality granted intervenor status

Published: 3/9/2016 11:08:17 PM

The towns of Northfield and Gill each allocated $5,000 this week to support Montague’s efforts against the controversial Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline.

Out of the eight Franklin County towns the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s controversial project is proposed to cross, Montague was the only municipality granted permission to intervene in Berkshire Gas Co.’s request to buy gas from the NED project. The state Department of Public Utilities must approve Berkshire Gas tying into the NED pipeline.

Pipeline opponents hope that denying the NED project prospective customers in Massachusetts, like Berkshire Gas, it will help kill the pipeline which its builder’s contend is largely to supply New England.

Montague is now a full legal intervenor in hearings before the state Department of Public Utilities, which must approve the retail gas company buying gas from the proposed NED project as it passes through the state.

According to Montague Selectman Richard Kuklewicz, who appeared at Tuesday’s Northfield Selectboard meeting, Montague was considered to become an intervenor due to the amount of gas consuming customers in town.

Other towns that oppose the pipeline don’t have Berkshire Gas customers and therefore weren’t eligible to be full intervenors in the case.

“Because of some of the legal things that Deerfield was doing and so forth, it really became clear that Montague was the one town that was really in a position to apply for intervenor status,” Kuklewicz said. “The whole intention of the town of Montague is to appeal really on behalf of the larger community of Franklin County and beyond.”

Northfield Selectboard member Jed Proujansky said it’s pertinent for those denied intervenor status to correspond with Montague and other intervenors.

“We can also share information with people who are intervenors — up to a limit; they have certain requirements that don’t allow them to share certain confidential information,” he said. “Many towns are working together to share the information they have.”

Montague has already allocated $15,000 to pay legal fees and other costs associated with the intervention process and plans to request additional funds at the annual town meeting, although the amount has yet to be determined. Kuklewicz followed up that statement with a request for additional funds from Northfield with a reminder that Montague is working on behalf of all impacted Franklin County towns.

“We are talking to other communities and asking if they would be willing to help Montague to defray some of the costs of the intervention. We understand that we will pay a large burden of the cost,” he said. “This intervention is really more than just Montague.”

Montague has hired a consultant to review the case and will release a public document with recommendations on how to proceed with mitigation efforts.

“I think it’s definitely a valuable task to pursue,” Northfield Selectboard Chairman Jack Spanbauer said. “The big proponent is looking at this as a regional effort and I appreciate what (Montague) is doing.”

The Board of Selectmen in Gill voted on Monday night to authorize the allocation of funds to support Montague’s legal fees in the pipeline DPU proceedings.

While the pipeline would not travel through Gill, officials are concerned about the pipeline project’s impact on the air and water quality, and potential light pollution that could come from the compressor station in Northfield, said Gill Town Administrative Assistant Ray Purington.

“It is in Gill’s interest to support Montague in legal representation and technical assistance to examine Berkshire’s claims and its true purposes for investing in this pipeline,” said Montague Chairman Michael Nelson in a letter to selectmen in Gill.

According to Nelson’s letter, challenging such contracts is fundamental to challenging the need for the pipeline. As a full intervenor, Montague’s attorney and other witnesses can investigate the pipeline to examine Berkshire’s proposed contract and to determine whether the company bypassed other, potentially better options for serving customers.

“I’m happy to see this move forward and I was happy to see that the town voted to pass this,” Gill Chairman Greg Snedeker said at the meeting on Monday. The town held a special town meeting in late February, where residents voted to in favor of dispersing the funds.

“It’s in our interest to know whether or not these contracts are viable and really speak to the needs,” said Snedeker. The selectmen said they hope to set an example for other towns to support Montague’s intervenor efforts.

Deerfield officials also received a request for funds and the finance committee will be making a recommendation to the selectmen about how to proceed, said Interim Town Administrator Doug Finn.

The controversial TGP 415-mile-long pipeline is expected to go into service in 2018 if approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“How fantastic that they stood up,” said Ariel Elan, Montague pipeline liaison. She said the town’s attorney just starting an analysis looking for other cost-effective ways to satisfy area’s gas needs. “My personal reaction is very grateful that these two towns recognize that this is a very valid, essential way to challenge whether there is a need for the pipeline.”

You can reach Lisa Spear at: lspear@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280

You can reach Rachel Rapkin at: rrapkin@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263




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