Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fitzwilliam and Troy officials confront regional planning commission about pipeline proposal

So where were Winchester's Officials?

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff

FITZWILLIAM — Officials from two towns want to know where the regional planning commission has been during the past few months, as residents, organizations and local governments scramble to educate themselves about a controversial pipeline project.
Fitzwilliam selectmen told the commission’s executive director during the board’s meeting Monday night the organization hasn’t provided the kind of accurate and neutral information residents and municipal boards need to understand the pros and cons of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project proposed by Kinder Morgan. Members of the Fitzwilliam and Troy conservation commissions and the Fitzwilliam Planning Board, who were all in attendance, echoed selectmen’s concerns. Fitzwilliam selectmen asked members of the regional commission to attend.
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a Kinder Morgan company, is proposing to build 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 proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline would cross 71 miles of southern New Hampshire, including the Monadnock Region towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Southwest Region Planning Commission officials said they’ve been gathering information and working on maps following a request from AECOM, a company hired by Kinder Morgan, for documents and reports about natural resources, wildlife, aquifers, conservation lands, topography and other features along the proposed pipeline route.
But that work takes time, and represents the equivalent of a full-time position, Timothy P. Murphy, executive director of the commission, said.
He added that town officials with questions, concerns and suggestions should always feel free to contact the commission, and up until the Monday meeting, hadn’t heard from any communities directly affected by the pipeline.
In addition, when the commission received the request from AECOM, it went to its member towns first to make sure this was what they wanted the commission to do, he said. By doing so, the gathering of information didn’t start right away, he said.
“We didn’t want to start on this if it was against the wishes of the communities,” Murphy said.
Commission officials also wanted to make sure AECOM was going to pay them for the work, Murphy said.
He said in a phone interview Wednesday he believes AECOM is paying the commission about $5,000.
Commission officials have been, and are continuing to make any information they have about the project available, including on a web page that has been up on the organization’s website for the past four to six months, he said Wednesday.
Since then, residents and officials in some towns have gone farther in their research than commission officials have been able to go, he said.
Southwest Region Planning Commission covers Cheshire County and parts of Hillsborough and Sullivan counties.
The communities in the commission’s coverage area where the pipeline is proposed to travel through are Winchester, Richmond, Fitzwilliam, Troy, Rindge, New Ipswich, Temple and Greenville.
Murphy said Wednesday the planning commission hasn’t before dealt with the process involved in vetting and approving an interstate natural gas transmission pipeline project, and it doesn’t want to approach the matter “haphazardly.”
“We’re trying to find our way in this process to be as effective as we can within resources,” he said.
However, Murphy’s answers at the Monday meeting weren’t good enough for Fitzwilliam and Troy officials. They put Murphy and two other representatives from the commission on the spot, asking why the commission’s website didn’t have the depth and breadth of information about the project that was available from the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.
“My request would be for Southwest to do better,” Fitzwilliam Selectman Susan S. Silverman said. “There needs to be more information made available to people.”
In trying to understand the project, its benefits and its ramifications, people often have only two extremes to look at when trying to find information, she said.
The planning commission needs to be a place where neutral information about the project and natural gas transmission pipelines can be made available, she said.
“Often, people are operating with less than perfect information,” she said. “This has a lot of layers and facets, and I think a good place to find that information would be your website.”
She added,” We’re not asking you to take a position on the pipeline. We’re asking for information to be shared.”
The Nashua Regional Planning Commission website has a tab for “hot projects” that includes the pipeline. Clicking on that link brings viewers to a page chock full of project information that includes an overview; links to project documents, background about pipelines and local news articles; maps of the areas in the pipeline’s proposed path; information for property owners; and links to state and federal agencies involved in the project’s approval process.
In contrast, a link from Southwest Region Planning Commission’s website brings one to a page with a map of the proposed route, a project overview, summaries of the state and federal review processes for the project, and information links for Kinder Morgan, the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, and the U.S. Department of Transportation Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

Marianne Salcetti, chairwoman of the Troy Conservation Commission, suggested the Southwest Region Planning Commission host some kind of meeting with residents in all the towns affected by the proposed pipeline.
“We’re heading into the scoping phase, and that’s huge,” she said.
In addition, Liberty Utilities is talking about running a cost and benefit analysis of building a “lateral to serve the Keene Division,” which could result in more towns being affected by the project, she said.
Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp., which is a partner with Kinder Morgan in the pipeline construction. Liberty Utilities signed an agreement with Kinder Morgan last year to transport natural gas to its customers on the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
Fitzwilliam Selectmen Chairwoman Nancy W. Carney said she knows gathering information about the project is a long process, and the Southwest Region Planning Commission works with other communities not in the pipeline’s path. However, this project is a big deal for the region, she said, and should be treated as such.
Carney is also the town’s fire chief.
“We look at you, and you have the people, knowledge and ability to do things,” she said. “Towns our size don’t have the ability to produce what you can.”

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.

1 comment:

How about making your website useful said...

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