The board voted 3-2 at its most recent meeting to draft a letter to Kinder Morgan, denying its representatives access to survey town-owned property.
Selectmen Chairman Roberta A. Fraser and members Ken Berthiaume and Jack Marsh Jr. voted in favor of the motion. Herbert “Chan” Stephens and Theresa G. Sepe opposed it.
About 25 people attended the meeting at the Winchester Town Hall, with most of them there to encourage the selectmen to take a stance against the project.
“I know many of us here are looking for leadership,” said Rick Horton, a resident and chairman of the school board. “You are the leaders of this town, and you need to make a statement and follow through.”
The selectmen’s vote comes after the majority of residents participating in town meeting last month approved three petition articles directing town officials to take certain actions opposing the proposed construction of a pipeline by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a Kinder Morgan company.
Those actions are to deny the company and its associates permission to enter town-owned property to perform surveys; oppose approval of the project by the N.H. Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee because the proposal is inconsistent with the town’s goals of protecting and preserving its aquifers, drinking water, wetlands and streams; and oppose approval of the project by the N.H. Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee because the proposal is inconsistent with the basic tenet of individual property rights.
The margin of approval for each article ranged from 149 to 183 votes, out of roughly 600 total votes.
The company is proposing a pipeline to carry natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania through upstate New York, part of northern Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire before going to a distribution hub in eastern Massachusetts.
The Monadnock Region communities on the proposed route are Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Selectmen in Fitzwilliam and Rindge have already taken united stances against allowing Kinder Morgan to survey property in their towns of the pipeline, and supported other anti-pipeline warrant articles voters approved last month.
Before the Winchester selectmen voted on April 1, board members engaged in about 20 minutes of heated debate among themselves and with some audience members about whether the selectmen should take a position on the entire project.
Sepe and Stephens said they needed more information about the project to make a decision, while Berthiaume, Fraser and Marsh said they needed to stand behind town meeting’s approval of three anti-pipeline warrant articles last month.
The debate escalated to a shouting match at one point, with Sepe defending her position to anti-pipeline audience members that selectmen don’t have all the information yet to take a stance on the project.
Sepe said she and her family live less than 300 feet from the pipeline, but she hasn’t made a decision yet about the project because she doesn’t feel she has all the information.
In addition, she said she believes it’s important to separate her personal opinions from her role as a selectman.
“I want to get more information. That is just how I feel. If you don’t like it, too bad, that is how I feel,” she said.
The only action Sepe said she’d agree to is selectmen writing a letter to Kinder Morgan saying that voters approved the three anti-pipeline warrant articles, and including the wording of the articles.
Horton said he was disappointed that Sepe feels as she does about the matter.
Fraser said selectmen should take a stand against the proposed pipeline.
“As the governing body of the town of Winchester, we have a responsibility to carry out the voters’ wishes,” she said.
Toward the end of the debate, Stephens said selectmen would meet with Kinder Morgan officials at the end of this month, but didn’t have a specific date.
Marsh then made a motion to draft a letter to Kinder Morgan to deny its representatives access to town-owned property.
He had just gotten a few words into it, when applause and cheers erupted from pipeline opponents.
After the vote, some residents spoke for and against the pipeline, including Bill McGrath who said he was concerned the town could get slapped with a lawsuit because one of the anti-pipeline warrant articles goes against state law.
Fraser confirmed that one of the articles isn’t legally enforceable.
The article they were referring to was about not allowing Kinder Morgan representatives to survey town-owned property.
Resident Ronald W. Croteau said the town has to fight the project.
“It’s not going to help the state of New Hampshire one iota, or the town of Winchester,” he said. “It’s going to deface our town.”