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FERC Hears Pipeline Concerns In Sandisfield

Jim Levulis

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held a public comment meeting in Sandisfield, Massachusetts last night on a proposed natural gas pipeline project that would include expansions in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.Before the meeting was opened for public comment, Jim Flynn, project manager for Kinder Morgan-owned Tennessee Gas provided a brief overview of the proposal. It includes 13 total miles of new underground pipe that would run parallel to existing pipelines to serve Connecticut-based Southern Connecticut Gas, Yankee Gas and Connecticut Natural Gas.

“The purpose of the project is they’ve established a need for the project and have come to terms with Tennessee Gas on the financial side of the equation,” Flynn said. “The project is approximately $85 million. It’s targeted to be in service in calendar year 2016 assuming all the regulatory approvals come in from the state and federal agencies.”

Kinder Morgan submitted the project to FERC July 31. About 30 people in the crowd of roughly 100 voiced their displeasure with the project which would place roughly four miles of new pipeline in Sandisfield. Patrick Barrett chairs the town’s selectboard.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
About 30 people spoke at FERC's public comment meeting on Kinder Morgan's Connecticut Expansion Project Wednesday at Sandisfield Arts Center.

“If this project is approved, the tripping station is going to end up in the Hyrckvich family field, virtually destroying their farm,” Barrett said. “Destroying the habitat of a family farm not only goes against town bylaws, but everything this community has stood for.”

FERC and Kinder Morgan representatives also led a site visit to the proposed locations before the meeting. Most of the concerns centered around damaging land, wildlife and the quality of life in the town of 900 in southern Berkshire County. Heather Morrical owns land in Sandisfield.

“My property is going to be left with half a dozen trees and no economic value whatsoever,” Morrical said. “And like all of you, I’ve put my hard earned money and my tax money into this property and I was hoping to move here someday.”

Colton Andrews of Laborers International Union of North America spoke in support of the expected 175 temporary jobs the project is said to create, many expected to go to people who trained at centers in Hopkinton, Massachusetts or Pomfret, Connecticut.

“We’ve built pipelines around this country,” Andrews said. “We build them safely. We build them proficiently. At the same time our guys and girls have made a great living, supported their families and put food on the table.”

People in Sandisfield expressed safety concerns as well. An accident during the last expansion in 1981 resulted in a 1952 pipeline being punctured, releasing gas. A portion of the town was evacuated. Michael Filpi, business manager for Laborers 473 in Pittsfield, worked on that expansion.

Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Signs opposing the pipeline lined the entrance of the Sandisfield Arts Center.

“In fact, one of the air tracks that was drilling the rock that had accidentally hit the pipeline was drilled by myself,” Filpi said. “There was no intention for us to go work that November day, it was a rainy day like today, to have any accident happen.”

Filpi says the 1952 pipe was exposed because regulations today didn’t exist back then. Land now owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, including Spectacle Pond, would be impacted under the current proposal. Jennifer Howard spoke on behalf of DCR outlining concerns about potential blasting and use of water from the pond to test the pipeline.

“Respect the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act, the MEPA process and run parallel reviews,” Howard said. “What we did when we submitted our comment letter is we outlined our concerns and asked that you respect that and allow that process to run its course and run yours concurrently with that.”  

Elaine Baum, an environmental project manager with FERC, led the meeting. She says FERC will use comments filed by November 10 to go along with an environmental assessment or EA.

“This will include an examination of the proposed facility locations as well as alternative sites,” Baum said. “We will assess the project’s effects on water bodies and wetlands, vegetation and wildlife, endangered species, cultural resources, socio-economics, soils, land use, air quality and safety.”

The assessment will be publically released for a 30-day comment period before heading to a five-member FERC commission appointed by the president for consideration, as explained by Baum.

“The commission will consider the environmental information from the EA along with the non-environmental issues such as engineering, markets and rates in making its decision to approve or deny Tennessee’s request for a certificate,” Baum said. “There is no review of FERC decisions by the president or Congress maintaining FERC’s independence as a regulatory agency and providing for fair and unbiased decisions.”

If the FERC commission approves the project, eminent domain, which can be disputed, takes effect, giving Kinder Morgan the ability to use the land.

Another FERC meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Bethlehem Town Hall in Albany County, where a mile of new pipeline is being proposed.

Click here for FERC documents regarding the Connecticut Expansion Project.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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