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Berkshire Activists, Lawmakers Seek To Block FERC-Approved Pipeline

Anti-pipeline activists and some Berkshire area lawmakers are looking at ways to fight federal approval of an expansion project in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.The $86 million Connecticut Expansion Project includes roughly 13 miles of pipeline in Albany County, NY, Hartford County, CT as well as in Berkshire and Hampden counties in Massachusetts. Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, says the upgrades to its existing system will meet increased demand for natural gas transportation in the Northeast. The company estimates the expansion will create 175 temporary construction jobs. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project on March 11. But, the project needs state approval in Massachusetts since a four-mile pipeline loop would run through Otis State Forest. State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox says he was shocked to see FERC sign off on the project without more input from Massachusetts and area residents.

“Clearly FERC has total disregard for Article 97, it’s in our state constitution for these protected lands,” Pignatelli said. “Clearly FERC has no regard at all for what’s in our constitution. They clearly have no regard for the Sandisfield loop, endangered habitat or old-growth forest – there are trees in this old-growth forest that were here before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.”

Pignatelli and fellow Democratic Senator Ben Downing have decried legislation submitted by a Boston-area lawmaker last year that would allow the company to obtain permanent easements on the land. A two-thirds vote in the Legislature is needed to lift the protection. The bill has been placed under study. Downing says his office is exploring ways to block the project.

“We’ve reached out and are in discussions with the attorney general’s office to better understand what options that we have,” Downing said. “I know that some of the citizens group have taken similar steps.”

The group Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline has filed a motion to stay FERC’s order. Katy Eiseman, Director of the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, works with the group.

“Not all of the permits have been received for this project,” Eiseman said. “Even though there’s a FERC certificate, that’s not the only one required. A big one is the 401 water quality certificate that is required under the federal Clean Water Act.”

Days after receiving FERC approval, Kinder Morgan filed an injunction in Berkshire Superior Court seeking immediate access to the state forest in hopes of starting tree-cutting. In a statement, Kinder Morgan spokesman Steve Crawford says despite an environmental certificate from the state and “nearly two years of working with state and local officials to coordinate and obtain approvals, the Legislature has not acted on the easements for the Sandisfield loop; nor does it appear likely to do so." The state of Massachusetts and its Department of Conservation and Recreation are listed as defendants.

“Now we’re set up for this fight over protecting this land and I fully expect the attorney general to be defending Massachusetts,” said Eiseman.

Pignatelli says he is very disappointed in the Berkshires’ federal delegation for allowing FERC approval. The Democrat says whatever happens in Sandisfield sets the tone for the company’s roughly $5 billion, 400-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposed to run through Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire.

“Which I’m telling you is sending the wrong message to a lot of folks,” Pignatelli said. “Towns are pooling their resources to hire attorneys. If FERC doesn’t care, then tell me that right now. Don’t send me on a fool’s errand and give me hope that we can express our environmental or community impact concerns if you just don’t care. Let me know that right now. Let me save a lot of money. Let me try to get the best deal I can out of these people who appear to not be very good corporate citizens, Kinder Morgan. They’ve totally disregarded this small little town in South County and it’s going to set the table for the total disregard for communities throughout Massachusetts on the bigger pipeline.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate 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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