Five area towns have been fighting the battle against the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project for months. Now the Cheshire County government is on the cusp of joining them.
That is, if county officials want to.
Officials from Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester plan to submit a letter asking commissioners and delegation members to vote to take a position against the project, and write a letter conveying that stance to the governor and New Hampshire’s Congressional representatives.
The decision to write a letter came during a meeting involving town officials from Fitzwilliam, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester and county commissioners Friday afternoon in Keene. Representatives from the Southwest Region Planning Commission were also present. County commissioners called the meeting, saying they wanted to discuss the project and ways they may be able help, even though what they can do is limited.
Fitzwilliam Selectman Susan S. Silverman volunteered her board to take the lead in drafting the document when it meets Monday. She said the letter could then be sent to other towns — including those with no officials present at the meeting — to sign.
“At this point, I think what we’d ask the county commissioners to do, and I also hope the county delegation, is to write the preferably strongly-worked letter to the governor and our congressional representatives saying they’ve examined all the issues and don’t think this is right for New Hampshire,” Troy Selectman William T. “Tom” Matson said.
The delegation comprises the county’s 23 state representatives.
Officials and residents in Matson’s town and others along the pipeline’s projected route have been submitting comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, he said, but with more than 6,000 already submitted, he is concerned about how much weight is being given to them.
“Our fear is this is going to be a railroaded process,” he said.
FERC’s five-member board will decided whether the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline wins federal approval.
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 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 supply fuel to customers in the Keene area. It’s likely that branch would have to come through Swanzey to get to Keene.
“There has been a lot of activity relative to the pipeline,” Stillman Rogers, chairman of the county commission, said. “The thing that has struck me is we’re going to need to plan for what happens in our towns, if this thing happens.”
That includes having ordinances that would pertain to pipeline development in place sooner rather than later, participating in public meetings and hearings, and submitting written comments when there is an opportunity to do so, he said.
It’s also important that residents and officials push state and federal legislators to come up with laws about the process of decommissioning a natural gas pipeline when it is no longer in use, and who would be responsible for paying for it, he said.
“What happens when pipelines are no longer useful, they get abandoned in place,” he said. “We don’t want towns in the state of New Hampshire to have to pay to rip out 30 miles of pipeline in this county, and pay to do all the soil work and testing because it’s going to be required.”
Silverman said several New Hampshire towns along the proposed pipeline route are members of a municipal pipeline coalition that meets every two weeks.
One of the topics that has been discussed is how Portland Natural Gas Transmission System in Maine is proposing a project that would expand a pipeline built in 1999, she said.
Her husband, Terry, who is chairman of the Fitzwilliam Planning Board, said the pipeline travels 300 miles through the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and connects to TransCanada’s system at the border. That project, as well as another pipeline expansion project being proposed along an existing line, could be alternatives to the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, he said.
“It’s a bigger picture,” Susan Silverman said. “There is a better alternative out there than NED.”
Matson said among the many frustrations associated with the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project has been that people living in the towns where the pipeline is proposed to pass through are being treated like “ignorant hillbillies.”
“This whole process has disregarded this end of the state,” he said.
He believes that is because elected officials don’t believe this area has the same amount of voters that they’d get from communities such as Manchester, Concord, Merrimack and Nashua, he said.
In addition, many government officials seem to be suspicious of information being presented by people with the pipeline awareness coalitions, and officials are treating them as if they don’t know what they’re talking about, he said.
“I have a conservation commission with two Ph.D.s on it. Is their information valid? I bet it is,” he said. “We’re looking for validation for the work we’re doing as committees and citizens. Government bodies need to recognize that we’re doing a good job and our information is correct.”
Silverman agreed, adding that when she and representatives from other towns along the proposed pipeline route met with Gov. Maggie Hassan, they were disappointed because they felt Hassan wasn’t listening to them, and was more concerned about the state possibly losing businesses if the pipeline wasn’t built.
“The take-away I had was that she was willing to throw away 15 towns so the roughly 20 businesses she mentioned could stay in the state,” Silverman said.
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.