Wednesday, February 18, 2015

With limited power, local conservation commissions weigh in on pipeline plan

By Martha Shanahan Sentinel Staff

As plans progress for a Kinder Morgan-owned natural gas pipeline that would pass through southern New Hampshire, local conservation organizations are weighing their options.
At its regular meeting Monday night, members of the Fitzwilliam Conservation Commission reviewed a draft of a letter they plan to submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government agency charged with reviewing Kinder Morgan’s proposal.
“The mission of the Fitzwilliam Conservation Commission is to protect the natural resources of the Town of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire,” the letter begins.
The commission’s members bent their heads around the letter and read through it again. The letter detailed the Fitzwilliam conservation land, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands that the proposed pipeline would pass through.
The route proposed outlined in a November proposal from Kinder Morgan shows the pipeline crossing Fitzwilliam though some areas of conserved land and wetlands, including Scott Pond and Little Monadnock Mountain.
In addition to thousands of miles from Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass., the project would cross a total of 6.75 miles in Fitzwilliam, 6.14 in Richmond, 8.9 in Rindge, 1.59 in Troy and 5.57 in Winchester.
The commission’s letter voices local concerns — how drilling and placing the pipeline could affect the town’s drinking water sources, and global ones — how extending New Hampshire’s dependence on fossil fuels like natural gas could contribute to climate change.
“I think it’s good,” commission member Barbara Green said.
The others agreed, and briefly discussed small changes they could make to the wording or order of the letter’s points.
They voted unanimously to send it to FERC using its online commenting system. There, it will join letters from residents of places all along the pipeline’s route opposing the plan for the project.
But even as the environmental advocate for the town, the conservation commission’s options for entering the pipeline conversation are fairly limited.
“Our primary focus is on the environmental interests of Fitzwilliam,” Fitzwilliam Conservation Commission Chairman Paul M. Kotila told The Sentinel Monday. “Where is this pipeline going to go, what kind of impact will it have? ... Our assignment as a conservation commission is to monitor and plan for those kinds of situations.”
It can be hard to monitor or plan, though, when most of the information the commission has comes from its own research.
Kinder Morgan, a Houston-based energy company that owns pipelines all over the country, has not gained much trust among the residents of the towns on the proposed route.
It has offered some information to town officials and has already sent representatives to meet with property owners whose land would be affected. But most people, conservation commission members alike, feel they’re in the dark about the possible extent of the pipeline’s effects.
“They’re being nebulous as to what they’re doing,” Fitzwilliam commission member Hiel Lindquist said.
The commission’s members have been forced to do their own research, investigating other pipelines the company has built and listening to the hefty coalition of New Hampshire and Massachusetts residents who have dedicated their lives this year to studying and opposing Kinder Morgan’s foray into New England.
“I don’t know what the alternative is, because (the information) is not being provided by Kinder Morgan,” Fitzwilliam coalition member Barbara Green said.
While conservation commissions in Massachusetts towns have legal standing, New Hampshire commissions act only in an advisory role to their towns and lawmakers.
William C. Preston, vice chairman of the Rindge Conservation Commission, said members of that group feel similarly limited in their powers to stand up against the pipeline plan.
“It doesn’t seem as though we have the power to do much,” Preston said.
He said the Rindge commission also has concerns that range from global warming to the composition of Rindge’s wetlands.
The Rindge commission has written a similar statement of opposition and submitted it to the FERC website.
More information about Kinder Morgan’s plans might set their minds at ease, Preston said, but he thinks that is unlikely.
“We sent a letter to them that our practice, if someone wants to do something … is to have them come to us and explain what they want to do,” Preston said. “We haven’t had any response.”
As best as it can, Lindquist said, the commissions are trying to follow their own mission statements.
“We try to reflect what the town feels about these issues,” he said.
But without an assurance from Kinder Morgan or FERC, conservation officials in the towns are left to imagine the worst.
“The specifics are the thing that are uncertain,” Kotila said.
If the pipeline runs under Scott Pond, for instance, the commission members have heard that construction would involve constructing several new roads.
At that suggestion, the members spent several minutes discussing the mess that could create.
Conservation organizations such as the Monadnock Conservancy are also participating in the pipeline conversation, with somewhat more ease than the town commissions.
Because the Conservancy actually owns holds the easements for the land that could be affected by the pipeline, its staff are in direct contact with Kinder Morgan officials.
These parcels, both in Rindge, include Converse Meadow, a town-owned property on which the conservancy owns an easement, and Town Hill Farm, which is privately owned.
Executive Director Ryan Owens said he hopes the conservancy can convince Kinder Morgan to at least build around those properties.
“We are sharing with Kinder Morgan officials the maps ... that overlay the route with state conservation lands,” he said. “We’re indicating that our expectation is that they will find ways to avoid those properties.”
“It’s too early to say, but I’m hopeful,” he added.
The members of public conservation commissions remain determined to show they deserve a voice.

The New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions has organized a meeting next week where members of local commissions will discuss how they can be involved with the pipeline plans.
The Fitzwilliam commission members realized at their meeting Monday that the association’s meeting would conflict with a Kinder Morgan open house, one of several open houses that Kinder Morgan has scheduled in the area.
Fitzwilliam Selectmen Chairwoman Susan S. Silverman urged the commission members to go to the association meeting. She reminded the members that Kinder Morgan had pushed much of its original pipeline route north out of Massachusetts, partly in the face of opposition from Bay State residents.
“There was a reason for that, and the reason was people like you guys,” she said.

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


just a wondering outloud said...

So where does our CC stand in all of this, where's Gus and his righteousness, the defender of the environment and Irene? Why no comments on this matter? Sure have seen a lot of their comments in the paper on other topics. Makes some of us old timers really wonder what's going on behind the scenes that we're being kept in the dark about.

Anonymous said...

Wondering out loud.... check out the Winchester Conservation Facebook page or their minutes to see how much work they have put in on this topic. I understand they also have increased their membership by several people who have strong backgrounds to offer the town on this matter and other issues. There meetings are open to the public not held behind closed doors so if you are so concerned why are you not at the meetings?? I understand Mrs. Ryder brought a letter from Kinder Morgan to their last meeting for help because no one else in town hall could help her or offer advice

wondering outloud said...

Who the hell has time to go to facebook and do a search for the Winchester Conservation Comm. and why should we have to. This isn't social media bullcrap, this is town news that's suppose to be made available to the public. Why don't they put this stuff on the town web page we pay for instead of hiding it on facebook pages?