Hundreds Oppose Pipeline Project at FERC Scoping Session

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The Taconic High School auditorium was filled for the hearing that lasted long into the night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Natural Gas distributor Kinder Morgan filed some 6,500 pages of environmental reports on Friday.
 
On Tuesday, residents filled the Taconic High School auditorium to tell federal regulators their concerns about the environmental impacts of Kinder Morgan's proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.
 
"These documents are massive with highly technical and important information," said state Rep. Paul Mark at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission scoping session.
 
He said the documents that were submitted contain omissions of critical importance and it is "simply impossible" for stakeholders to have reviewed them in time.
 
Mark read a letter signed by himself, state Sens. Stan Rosenberg and Benjamin Downing, and state Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, Susannah Whipps-Lee and Stephen Kulik asking FERC to start the process over. As a group they called for the comment period, which ends at the end of August, to be postponed and extended and new notices of intent submitted.
 
"It is not fair to ask us to respond to over 6,500 pages with many 'to be determines' is just a few days," Cheryl Rose, of Dalton, echoed. 
 
Despite not having enough of the technical data in time, elected officials, organizational representatives, and residents all voiced numerous concerns about the project. Floating to the top was impacts on drinking water. 
 
Lee Hauge from the Lanesborough Water District said the proposed line cuts right through the only aquifer providing the town's residents with drinking water. All of the other nearby aquifers have been contaminated so should something happen, the town would have trouble getting fresh water.
 
"It is a danger to our water source, a danger to our infrastructure, and a danger to our finances," Hauge said. "There really is no other places for us to get water." 
 
The plan cuts between the town's two wells. Any impacts by construction or leaks in the pipe would be all it takes to contaminate the town's final source. Further, the town just installed a new water tank that could be damaged during construction while other infrastructure pieces, such as mains, could crumble under the weight of the trucks driving to the construction site.
 
Lanesborough Town Administrator Paul Sieloff says the town isn't in a financial position to repair damaged infrastructure. The town can only pave one or two roads per year and the construction vehicles will deteriorate roads even quicker than they are now.
 
He added that this past winter, water and sewer lines were frozen 8-feet deep, which means the frost could be troublesome to the pipeline just 3-feet down. Sieloff also questioned support for the volunteer fire department and suggested that the project's construction may be more difficult than anticipated - which he said from experience in a water line project the town is currently doing and involved much more blasting than expected.
 
The layout of the land causes concern for Dalton as well. Dalton Board of Selectmen Chairman John Bartels said the route cuts through its aquifer and close to reservoirs. The reservoirs in Dalton supply water for a number of towns so contamination there could impact the drinking water of some 50,000 people.
 
"The construction along the route will be through dramatic elevation changes, soils, streams, and swamps," Bartels said.
 
Dalton even designed a new route for Kinder Morgan that would avoid all of those areas and still connect with the rest of the project. 
 
Mary Cherry, the vice chairman of the Dalton board, said the town has voted three times against the project — twice to prevent the company from surveying town land and once on a ban on the high-pressure line. She said the plan cuts through native species habitats, and areas of focus for biodiversity. 
 
Overall, the town's concerns are on drinking water, agriculture, air quality, public safety, roads and traffic, recreation and aesthetics, historical structures, and the economics.
 
"I implore you to take these into consideration and ask Kinder Morgan to mitigate each and every one of them," Cherry said.
 
FERC had already identified a number of those concerns when officials sat in on the company's open houses earlier in the year. Those includes the push for alternative energy, the exporting of the gas, the rural character of the area, residential area impacts, fracked gas, private wells and aquifers, compression station noise, and air emissions.
 
According to FERC's representative John Peconom, who presided over the scoping session, the goal of Tuesday's meeting was to get more detail on those and hear concerns they hadn't heard before.
 
"We are from Washington ... We depend on your input and comments to help us learn about this area and learn the issues in the area," Peconom said. "We're not from this area and we need your help to make our review the best it can be." 
 
The comments heard on Tuesday will contribute to an environmental impacts report in part of the full review of the filing. The pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan will span 418 miles of new pipeline, nine compression station, one modified compression station, and 13 meter stations. The $3.3 billion project will transport 1.3 million cubic feet of natural gas through a 30-inch pipe from the Marcellus Shale in New York, to Massachusetts, and off toward Maine.
 
In the Berkshires, the pipeline is eyed to cut through Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor, and Peru. The company is in the prefiling stage and a full application to FERC is expected in the fall.
 
"The comments I have receive cite health, environmental and safety concerns," said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who represents a few of the towns impacted. "The route is proposed in an area that will affect water and wetlands."
 
Those towns affected aren't alone in opposing the pipeline. An earlier route included cutting through Lenox and the town geared up to oppose it. And then the route was change. But that hasn't stopped the town's involvement including being part of a working group with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
 
"We stand with our neighbors in condemning NED," said Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson.
 
There is still a chance the company could go back to the originally proposed route. And so, Gibson said the town is concerned with its own watershed and line potentially cutting through Kennedy Park. In opposing the pipeline through Lenox, Gibson said town officials knew they'd just be pushing the problem off to another town. So, they are staying involved in their opposition. Fred Nuffer from Averill Park, N.Y., attended the meeting to voice similar support.
 
State Rep. Paul Mark reads a letter signed by lawmakers from every Western Massachusetts district directly impacted by the project calling on FERC to start the public comment process over.
"Since the demise of the mills and GE, the economy in the Berkshires are based almost entirely on tourism," Gibson said of a large economic concern. "We depend on the tourist and second homeowners who are drawn here."
 
For the town of Windsor, catering to tourist isn't so much a concern but rather the town's entire way of life. 
 
"Residents are willing to trade paved roads and commercial infrastructure for fresh air," Windsor Selectman Douglas McNally said.
 
The town's largest business is a general store with one gas pump, he said, and the open spaces, agricultural land, and  rural character is what attracts residents. Windsor is eyed to have a compression station, which is a far cry from that character, he said. The station could emit gas into the atmosphere, include lighting, and make loud noises.
 
Jan Bradley will live just three miles from the proposed Windsor compression station. She said the stations release toxic chemicals and she's read about people nearby having headaches, nose bleeds, and heart issues from the gases.
 
Many of the nearly 80 people who signed up to speak at the session said the issues aren't just about the immediate impacts with construction but also the long-term effects. Walter Pasko, of Lanesborough, said he lives on a dirt road less than 1,000 feet from the pipeline route. The former engineer said if the pipe becomes constricted at any point, it could explode or leak.
 
"My concerns are basically related to stress failure related to the pipeline," Pasko said. "The terrain is very irregular with hundreds of feet of changes in elevation over share edges."
 
Others cited climate change and investment in renewable energy. And none of those who spoke knew the answer to a simple question: why build it? The company has previously said the closure of coal and nuclear power generating plants have left an energy shortage in New England but those in opposition say they haven't proven that need.
 
"My main concerns is the need. I feel like that has not been addressed adequately by the proposal," said Joan Wattman, of Plainfield, who said what many other said. 
 
Massachusetts doesn't need a natural gas pipeline, the crowd said.

Tags: gas pipeline,   public hearing,   

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