By Phil Demers
PITTSFIELD — "No eminent domain for private gain" summed up the message of speakers during a hearing Tuesday concerning the authority sought by Kinder Morgan to take lands along the proposed route of its Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline.
Speakers leveled accusations of "bullying" "harassing" and "trespassing" against Kinder Morgan agents, imploring that the state Department of Public Utilities reject a powerplay petition recently filed by the company. Six DPU representatives ran the hearing and recorded comments.
The energy giant's petition seeks to force affected landowners who have so far shooed off company agents to grant access by taking land for right-of-way survey easements.
"The commonwealth should not be complicit in trampling property owners rights for private profit," said Cheryl Rose of Dalton.
Added her husband, Henry, "I hope you are doing more than politely listening to us today and that when you go back to Boston you will indeed reject this petition."
Thirty-nine Berkshire County properties have been identified by Kinder Morgan along the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline route for compulsory land surveying because owners have refused access. The properties are in Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale and Windsor.
Many of these same individuals — the deniers — showed up to speak at Tuesday's hearing, and they were angry.
"I question what they don't understand about the word 'no,'" Elizabeth Tatro, a Lanesborough farmer, said in telling of repeated visits, letters and phone calls from Kinder Morgan agents.
Williams Spaulding, a Hancock farmer, said he filed numerous "no trespass" orders against the company but still had to chase its people off his land.
A Hancock woman speaks at a public hearing Tuesday in front of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield. The woman, whose property is included in Kinder Morgan's proposal, and many other throughout the affected communities speak out in opposition to the petition submitted by Kinder Morgan to the DPU to use eminent domain to grant the company access to private property for surveying their proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline route despite the landowners' wishes. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)
The speakers raised concerns about the potential effects on groundwater quality and the gardens they use to feed their families. Some said they work from home and couldn't abide the noise. Farmers worried about their animals and compensation for lost land.
Others simply professed a desire to keep lands protected by conservation law in protection.
"How can we say, 'Sure, go ahead, we protected this land, but we didn't really mean it'?" Dicken Crane, owner of Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, said. "We can't say that. We can't possibly allow survey rights on land that we have put in development protection. The landowners [of conservation land] have a responsibility to not grant any access going against that protection."
Elected officials in towns along the route also spoke at the hearing, supporting their residents in blocking Kinder Morgan.
Mary Cherry, vice chairwoman of the Dalton Select Board, read an official statement calling on DPU to "recognize, protect and uphold the private property rights of its citizens as guaranteed by the Massachusetts constitution."
"We, the Select Board of the town of Dalton, stand with our citizens in affirming their rights to decide who shall enter their property and under what conditions," Cherry said.
Windsor Selectman Douglas McNally called for increased investment in clean energy.
"The billions of dollars being invested in this last-century technology should instead be invested in wind, solar and hydro power, rather than spent to create short-term, short-sighted profits for [Kinder Morgan] executives and shareholders at the expense of our environment," McNally said.
Stephen Bushway, a member of the Plainfield Energy Committee, said the company has not demonstrated a need for the gas, and so it would be ridiculous for the state to grant them eminent domain rights.
"Who, besides Kinder Morgan, has been able to make a solid argument for the pipeline?" Bushway said. "Our own Attorney General's Office has concluded there is insufficient need. Kinder Morgan called that study 'seriously flawed.' Ladies and gentlemen, consider the source."
Some public officials possessing degrees in engineering said the design and planning of the pipeline simply didn't hold up well to scrutiny, increasing the chance of failure and ruin.
All of Tuesday's speakers opposed the pipeline proposal.
In its petition to the DPU, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. maintains the surveys are necessary in order to provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with more information about the environmental impact of the project. The commission is not expected to issue a permit decision until November, at the earliest, and the pipeline would not be in service until late 2018.
The company is seeking the order allowing it to enter properties for survey activities within 200 feet on each side of the proposed pipeline route's centerline.
Janet Bradley, another member of the public, brought the room to its feet in applause with her comments.
"I'm not here to beg or reason with you," she said. "I'm here as a demonstration of our resolve. Do you think if this gets approved we're going to crawl back into hour houses and say, 'Oh well, we tried.' Our answer to the [proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline] is no fracking way."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.