Williamstown Urged to Oppose Pipeline; Activists Set Info Meetings

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Shira Wohlberg, left, and Anne O'Connor encouraged the Board of Selectmen to attend an anti-gas pipeline meeting and adopt a resolution opposing the pipeline.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A group of residents came to Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting to ask town officials to attend another meeting.

They had more on their minds, actually. They really want the board to endorse a resolution opposing a proposed gas pipeline that would run through Northern Berkshire County.

Although no part of the route would go through Williamstown itself, the threat it poses to the county is everyone's problem, activists say. And two of those activists were at Town Hall on Monday night to encourage the selectmen to attend one of five upcoming informational sessions about Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct project.

The first is Thursday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m. at Lanesborough Town Hall. Another is even closer to home for Williamstown residents: at Williams College's Dodd Dining Hall at noon on Friday, Jan. 23.

"What we wanted to make clear is the number of upcoming sessions in Lanesborough, Pittsfield, Dalton and Williamstown about the pipeline and why we think it's such a serious issue for Williamstown, Massachusetts and the nation," Anne O'Connor told the board.

"This pipeline, in areas close to us, is running along the existing utility corner. ...  [Some might think], 'There's already a utility corridor there, Who cares?' This would widen the corridor by 100 feet. And the thought might be that the risk of running explosive gas near overhead utility lines is a concern."

The natural gas provider's plan is to run the Tennessee Gas pipeline from the state's western border through northern Massachusetts and part of New Hampshire on its way to Dracut. Kinder Morgan recently decided to reroute part of the pipeline after running into strong opposition in Central Berkshire. It would enter the state along utility rights of way in Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire and Windsor before meeting up with original route in Dalton.

Proponents say the increase in natural gas delivery will have a positive effect on high energy prices; the two electrical utilities in Western Mass. were recently raised rates nearly 30 percent or more. Kinder Morgan says it's trying to provide a safe, cost-effective energy solution to meet a growing demand.

O'Connor and Shira Wohlberg raised questions about Kinder Morgan's safety record and the impact of the hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) that would be use to extract from the ground gas that would end up in the proposed pipeline.

"The composition of that gas is not really known," O'Connor said.

"If there were accidents or an evacuation, towns [like Williamstown] would be required to pay for them," Wohlberg added.

The pair were joined at the microphone by two other Williamstown residents and a North Adams woman, Rachel Branch, who introduced a similar resolution to the North Adams City Council in the fall.

Wendy Penner of the town's Carbon Dioxide Lowering, or COOL, Committee, said the pipeline ran counter to the commonwealth's own Global Warming Solutions Act, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008, which aims to lower carbon emissions.

"The build out of new infrastructure for fossil fuels is not compatible with the work that needs to be done," Penner said. "We don't need to expand this pipeline. There are alternatives as we transition from fossil fuels."

"People think of natural gas as a transition fuel to renewables, but it is a fossil fuel," O'Connor said. "It's not accurate to think of it as a bridge fuel. It's different but equally polluting."

Wohlberg, who participated in last year's Great March for Climate Change, said Massachusetts does not need the energy that would be provided by the pipeline.

"Our electric grid wastes 60 percent of the electricity we produce," she said. "If we concentrate more on efficiency, on fixing leaks, we'll be fine."

Resident Richard Ford told the board that it was being asked to make a symbolic gesture, but it is an important symbolic gesture.

"What [society is] trying to do is deny what's coming to us in a matter of decades — flooding and climate refugees," Ford said. "What are we going to do with the millions of refugees from the coast?

"This is 40 years down the line, but we all know the science is telling us we only have a few years to act. This is one way to alert the public this is an issue that matters more than any other the town has faced."

The information sessions on the Kinder Morgan proposal are being organized by No Fracked Gas in Mass, the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network and Berkshire Organics. The dates are: Thursday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m. at Lanesborough Town Hall; Friday, Jan. 23, noon, at Dodd Dining Hall at Williams College; Saturday, Jan. 24, 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., at American Legion in Dalton; and Saturday, Jan. 31, 9:30 a.m., at Itam Lodge in Pittsfield.

Tags: gas pipeline,   natural gas,   

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Williamstown Town Manager Details Reasons for Trail Overrun

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A flawed design process is responsible for the $1.3 million overrun in a 2.4-mile bicycle and pedestrian path built under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the town manager said this month.
The town is on the hook for that $1.3 million, which exceeds the 10 percent contingency that MassDOT built into the budget for a multimodal trail bid at around $5.3 million.
At a meeting of the town's Finance Committee this month, Town Manager Robert Menicocci gave his most detailed public explanation of how the project's cost came in so far above the $5.8 million that the state agency contributed.
"There are two programmatic pieces as part of the project that fall into the category of: In a perfect world, maybe it wouldn't have happened," Menicocci said. "One I think was the overall bid and design, which related to the fact that, a lot of time, these trails are put in on existing rail beds, and you know what you're going on. There is solid earth underneath you. And a lot of the area where our bike path went in, there was wetland underneath and relatively virgin land.
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