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DPU hearing airs public concerns on pipeline access petitions

  • Ron Coler, of the Ashfield selectboard, speaks to the Department of Public Utilities at the eminent domain hearing at the Greenfield middle school, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Cyd Scott, of Erving, speaks to the Department of Public Utilities at the eminent domain hearing at the Greenfield middle school, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Jim Cutler, of Ashfield, speaks to the Department of Public Utilities at the eminent domain hearing at the Greenfield middle school, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Michael Hulburt, Lindsay Swan, and Walken Schweigert, of Children of the Wild ensemble theater, sing songs in front of the Greenfield middle school where the eminent domain hearing took place, at which the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities listened to the comments of members of the community, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Tom Clark, of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield, speaks to the Department of Public Utilities at the eminent domain hearing at the Greenfield middle school, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Walken Schweigert, of Children of the Wild ensemble theater, and Rachel I. Branch sing songs in front of the Greenfield middle school where the eminent domain hearing took place, at which the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities listened to the comments of members of the community, Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Attendees of the eminent domain hearing where the Massachusetts DPU listened to the comments of members of the community, filled the auditorium at the Greenfield middle school Wednesday, March 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Pipeline opponents stand with signs on Federal Street in front of the Greenfield Middle School, Wednesday, where the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities listened to comments at the eminent domain hearing. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt



For the Gazette
Tuesday, April 05, 2016

GREENFIELD — Speakers at a state Department of Public Utilities hearing at the Middle School last week argued against Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s petition to conduct surveys for its proposed Northeast Energy Direct project on more than 400 private properties around the state.

An estimated 300 people attended the session, with about 75 registering to speak, and a second hearing room was set up in the library for those who couldn’t wait.

Some of the many pipeline opponents said allowing the surveys would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause.

“In this case, eminent domain would be stealing from the people, and most of all from the future people,” Cynthia Lawton Singer of Conway told the four DPU commission and staff members, including Chairwoman Angela O’Connor. “This pipeline is for private profit, with the lion’s share of gas to be exported.”

In the second of six hearings being held around the state, residents of the eight affected Franklin County towns, along with others, decried having property rights overridden for the benefit of a Texas corporation’s project they said would provide no benefit. Several of those who spoke questioned the authority and the timeliness of the DPU to decide on Tennessee Gas Co.’s petition.

Although people were advised to limit their comments strictly to the pipeline survey, many of those who spoke questioned the need for the project and rejected the company’s stated objective that it would ultimately reduce energy costs for the region.

Ashfield Planning Board member Jim Cutler said, “You are now, for the second time in a row, in a position to give (TGP parent) Kinder Morgan what they need in order to obtain a certificate to begin construction of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through my town, my property and through old-growth, 6-foot-diameter trees, around one of which lie the ashes of my mother.

“The term for this is called aiding and abetting.”

The company says the surveys are needed to support its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the pipeline, which would cross 64 miles in Massachusetts as well as southern New Hampshire on its proposed path from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, with lateral extensions.

The three TGP petitions filed with the DPU in January seek access to 55 properties in Deerfield, Shelburne, Ashfield, Montague, Northfield, Erving and Plainfield whose owners have not allowed the company access to perform civil surveys and surveys of archaeological and cultural resources; wetlands and water body delineation; and endangered or rare species. Included in these properties are Deerfield Academy, Clarkdale Fruit Farm, Woolman Hill and Northfield Mount Hermon School.

They also call for access to 14 private properties in Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, and Greenfield, where permission to do geotechnical surveys has been denied — including Shelburne parcels owned by entertainer Bill and Camille Cosby.

A third petition would allow the company access to perform vernal pool surveys on land owned by 18 private landowners whose properties are within 200 feet of the proposed pipeline’s centerline and are likely to contain vernal pools, in the company’s judgment.

Those 18 landowners, all of whom have denied access to the company for surveys that TGP says would ideally be completed in early spring, are in eight towns along the route, including Northfield, Warwick and Plainfield.

Ben Clark, a fourth-generation Deerfield farmer whose property is among those that would be directly affected by the DPU proceeding, told the gathering, “Our family has made it clear to Kinder Morgan that we do not want this pipeline. … The DPU should respect the wishes of affected landowners who do not want strangers surveying and disturbing their land. ... This pipeline is not in the public good, and will only benefit the shareholders of Kinder Morgan.”

Conway Select Board member Jim Moore, a representative to the Municipal Coalition Against the Pipeline, echoed the anger of earlier DPU proceedings on the NED pipeline, involving long-term agreements for pipeline gas for Berkshire Gas Co. when he told the panel, “This is the Commonwealth of Masssachusetts. Commonwealth means government of the people. … Every time we play God, we make a mess.”

Testimony presented on behalf of seven western Massachusetts legislators, including Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Reps. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Susannah Whipps Lee, D-Athol, said, “It would premature, to say the least, for our Massachusetts DPU to grant permission to remove protected land rights, the Constitution of our commonwealth, and the authority that Constitution grants to our (Legislature) to benefit a private, profit-seeking interest.

“The survey TGP wishes to undertake are invasive and can be destructive to soil, vegetation, and the quiet enjoyment of owners and neighbors. …. They are being asked to shoulder the entire burden, against their will, while monetary benefits flow to an out-of-stat corporation looking to create new customers outside of our region.”

Ashfield Select Board member Ron Koler got a standing ovation when he told the DPU, “History has shown us time and again that the erosion of moral principles when coupled with excessive government overreach will lead to radical democratic action.”

Steve Crawford, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, told The Recorder, “These hearings are an opportunity for the community to be heard by the Department of Public Utilities. We are very respectful of property rights and do not enter properties for surveys unless we have received prior permission. We are not currently conducting any surveys in Massachusetts as the DPU process is continuing.”

Comments will be accepted by the DPU through May 2.