Friday, February 6, 2015

Residents sound off, say they're skeptical of pipeline

WINCHESTER — Winchester’s Town Hall was transformed into pipeline headquarters Wednesday.
The hall was filled with poster boards, pamphlets and more than a dozen people wearing bright blue polo shirts with the insignia of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of energy company Kinder Morgan that wants to build a natural gas pipeline through much of southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The posters were printed with information that has become familiar to those following Kinder Morgan’s efforts to connect what comes out of the Pennsylvania shale gas fields through upstate New York, northern Massachusetts towns and more than a dozen New Hampshire towns including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Kinder Morgan says the 36-inch pipeline, which will cross hundreds of miles, will alleviate energy shortages and winter gas price spikes in New England.
Company representatives say the pipeline will follow the path of existing power lines that already run through the southern part of the Granite State, and that the company will do its best to affect as few New Hampshire residents as possible.
But in addition to the posters and blue shirts, Winchester Town Hall was also filled with more than 100 local residents, many of whom remain skeptical of the company’s assurances.
Cheryl Barlow of Harrisville stood outside Town Hall wearing a heavy jacket and holding an anti-pipeline sign.
Behind her, representatives from the New England chapter of the Laborer’s International Union of North America had set up a large sign with bright lights blaring messages of support for the pipeline and the jobs it would create.
Barlow said she had gone inside briefly to look at Kinder Morgan’s materials and came back out to protest.
“It’s just not the right fit for New Hampshire,” Barlow said.
She said she isn’t convinced by Kinder Morgan’s representatives that the project won’t have extreme environmental impacts on Winchester and the Connecticut River Valley.
“I just felt that I was being given half-truths,” Barlow said. “They just kept answering me in a roundabout way.”
Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice president for public affairs, answered questions from residents and the media at Wednesday’s open house.
He said misinformation about the federal regulatory process and Kinder Morgan’s safety record has circulated among people opposed to the pipeline.
The need, he said, is there.
“The possibility of gas service (to towns like Winchester) is real,” he said.
Liberty Utilities, the largest natural gas distributor in New Hampshire, has signed an agreement to purchase gas from the pipeline to heat New Hampshire homes.
Liberty has not proposed building any offshoots of the pipelines to municipalities not directly on the route, but it could, Fore said.
Liberty, and Kinder Morgan’s other customers, would not sign contracts to buy the gas if they didn’t think the demand was there, he said.
Fore encouraged people who have concerns about the pipeline to engage in the public meetings the company will hold over the next several months and contribute to the open comment period that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will continue to host in additional meetings and online.
The federal commission must approve the project before it can go forward.
Rosemary Wessel, a Cummington, Mass., resident who has been active in the anti-pipeline effort for more than a year, said she would continue to try to shut it down.
“Hopefully (federal regulators) will cancel it because there’s enough resistance, and it slows the process down.”
The corporation’s original proposed route would have crossed upstate New York and more than 40 northern Massachusetts towns.
Last month, in the face of opposition from Bay State residents and the promise of a route that aligned with existing utility lines, Kinder Morgan moved the proposed line north through 18 communities in southern New Hampshire.
Wessel said Kinder Morgan’s decision to change the pipeline’s route indicated it could possibility be swayed by public opposition.
“They knew that there is pressure, and they reacted,” she said.
Over the past two months, residents in local communities have joined Massachusetts opponents of the project, saying the pipeline will affect property values and cause environmental damage.
So far, Rindge and Winchester residents have put petition warrant articles on their town warrants, including one to not let Kinder Morgan representatives or surveyors on town land.
Other petition warrant articles, if passed, would allow Rindge and Winchester to oppose the N.H. Energy Site Evaluation Committee if it approves the pipeline.
The Site Evaluation Committee has not yet received communication from Kinder Morgan about the pipeline, according to committee administrator Timothy Drew.
The reasons for the town to oppose the project have to do with property rights and protecting the town’s drinking water, according to the warrant article.
But even if the towns vote to approve these petition warrant articles, it doesn’t effectively bar the project from going forward; it simply means the Site Evaluation Committee has to listen to the towns, Drew said. If the towns oppose the pipeline, the Site Evaluation Committee is not obligated to also oppose the project.
Drew said the state process for evaluating the project must take into account the concerns of individual towns, as well as state departments such as N.H. Fish and Game and the Department of Environmental Services.
Ultimately though, the federal government has the final decision because the pipeline crosses state lines.
“The proceedings of the (Site Evaluation Committee) would be incorporated into the federal process, too,” Drew said.
He said he’s been contacted by concerned citizens about the pipeline. He encourages people to get involved and stay involved.
“A lot of them are worried about getting run over,” Drew said. “Their voices will be heard in one way or another. I tell them not to fear, but be a participant.”

Martha Shanahan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1434, or Follow her on Twitter @ MShanahanKS.

No comments: