WINCHESTER — A proposed new route for a controversial natural gas pipeline avoids much of the town’s drinking water aquifer and natural resources, including Pulpit Falls.
And while some town officials and residents are happy company representatives listened to their concerns, they say they’ll keep fighting until there’s no plan to bring a pipeline through town.
“Now that they moved it, they want people to say, ‘Great, you listened to us and moved it so it’s OK for us to let our guard down,’ “ said Susan L. Durling, part of Winchester N.H. Gas Pipeline Awareness, an anti-pipeline group. “We’re not letting our guard down.”
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a Kinder Morgan company, is proposing to build a pipeline carrying 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 Northeast Energy Direct pipeline would cross 71 miles of southern New Hampshire, including the Monadnock Region towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Liberty Utilities, which is interested in buying natural gas from the pipeline for its customers, is considering building a line to branch off the pipeline to provide its customers in the Keene area with natural gas.
The recent route change is the second Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. officials have proposed through Winchester.
In July, they met with selectmen and the conservation commission to discuss a proposal that would move the pipeline south of the wellhead protection area part of the stratified aquifer. They said at the time the proposal would be the new preferred route for the pipeline.
However, board and commission members continued to express concern to company officials that the pipeline wouldn’t be leaving the path of Eversource’s electrical transmission lines until after crossing less than 100 feet from Pulpit Rock and just under 600 feet from Pulpit Falls, which are both on conservation land owned by the town.
Local history says Native Americans from the Massemet and Nawelet villages likely met annually in the area of the falls and nearby rock to challenge each other to games and enjoy one another’s company.
According to preliminary route maps delivered to Winchester Town Hall this week, the pipeline would leave the electrical transmission lines while still in Warwick, Mass., and travel northeast toward Old Warwick and Upper Snow roads. It would pass east of Pulpit Falls and Pulpit Rock, as well as avoid Bent Pond, which straddles the Winchester and Warwick border.
The pipeline would then cross Warwick Road (Route 78) farther south than the route proposed in July and travel toward Scotland Road. After Scotland Road it would make a sharp turn north, crossing Pudding Hill Road toward Richmond Road (Route 119).
Winchester Town Administrator Shelly Walker said Thursday that the preliminary maps were dropped off at town hall Tuesday afternoon.
The conservation commission has asked her to send the maps to the Southwest Region Planning Commission to match them up with the town’s tax maps to see which properties the new route would affect, she said.
Richard N. Wheatley, spokesman for the Northeast Energy Direct project, didn’t confirm the new proposed route in an email Thursday. He would only say, “We continue to examine routing options for the proposed NED Project as we continue stakeholder outreach and move toward an anticipated FERC certificate filing in October. But we have made no final re-route decisions.”
FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is charged with deciding whether to approve the project after the certificate is filed.
When asked if Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials considered the new proposal as a preferred route or alternate route, Wheatley said “(n)o additional proposed routing information to provide at this time. The full certificate filing has been planned for October.”
Selectmen Chairwoman Roberta A. Fraser said Thursday that while she and other town officials and residents are happy the pipeline is proposed to avoid Pulpit Falls and the aquifer, they’re bothered that it’s still coming through Winchester.
At the July meeting, the conservation commission voted to allow Fraser and commission member John H. Hann to give Kinder Morgan and Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials a tour of the Pulpit Falls and Pulpit Rock property.
Fraser said Thursday that tour took place at the end of July, and conservation commission member Benjamin Kilanski also participated.
Conservation commission member Gustave A. Ruth said the new proposed route is an improvement over the previous two, but it “just didn’t go far enough.”
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.