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Dozens Urge State To Deny Pipeline Surveys

This is a picture of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities hearing at Berkshire Community College.
Jim Levulis
Dozens of people at Berkshire Community College urged the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to deny Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company the authority to survey hundreds of privately-owned properties in the region.

State utility regulators on Tuesday got an earful from people looking to block land surveying in connection to a proposed pipeline in western Massachusetts.

Dozens of public officials, affected landowners and concerned citizens are urging the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to deny Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company the authority to survey hundreds of privately-owned properties in the region. The company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, says the surveys are needed to gather information required for federal review of its proposed Northeast Energy Direct Project. The company filed the petitions because numerous landowners have denied surveyors permission to enter their land. Jan Bradley of Windsor, where a compressor station has been proposed, has been a vocal opponent of the project.

“We are the voters, we are the taxpayers and we are the residents,” Bradley said. “Our answer to why you are here is ‘no’ to the surveying and our answer to the NED is ‘no fracking way.’”

Chair Angela O’Connor and other DPU officials were on hand to listen to the concerns in the first of six public hearings on the issue. May 6th is the public comment deadline. The DPU’s Steve August served as hearing officer.

“The hearing tonight and the survey cases being reviewed by the DPU are not about whether the pipeline should be approved or denied,” August said. “This case addresses only whether the requested services are appropriate and meet the DPU’s legal and regulatory requirements and established precedent. Whether the pipeline should be approved or denied is not within the jurisdiction of the DPU or other state agencies and permitting authorities.”

The DPU has never denied a pipeline company’s request for permission to survey privately-owned land, but judges all cases individually. Still, those at the hearing insist a DPU survey denial could impede the pipeline’s approval process. Will Spaulding of Hancock says although he filed “no trespass” orders with Kinder Morgan, the town of Hancock and FERC, he’s had to evict several survey teams from his property.

“How can a corporation be allowed to trample the rights of individual landowners, trespass on their property, potentially damage the water supply and then threaten with eminent domain the people who stand up for their right to say ‘no,’” said Spaulding.

In response to the trespassing claims, the company says it does not enter properties without prior permission. Kinder Morgan says it is not conducting surveys in Massachusetts during the DPU process. Furthermore, the company says it will follow up with people who say surveyors are trespassing if they come forward with information on specific incidents.

On behalf of the Dalton Select Board, Vice Chair Mary Cherry read a letter in support of residents’ property rights and listed multiple requests including limited tree cutting and no blasting if survey access is granted. Dellos Whitman of Hancock says his farm is going to be impacted by surveying and potential future work.

“They’re going to take five of my eight fields out of production for at least two years,” Whitman said. “I raise 21 head of beef cattle and I raise hay to feed those cattle – about 3,000 bales a year. I want to make sure that they’re going to pay me for the feed that I’m going to lose during that period of time.” 

The $5 billion, 400-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline would run through Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire to alleviate what Kinder Morgan and other energy companies call a regional bottleneck. The company is anticipating FERC to rule later this year.

While federal regulators approved the separate Connecticut Expansion Project, FERC recently requested Kinder Moran file additional information before it starts cutting trees on protected land near Sandisfield, Massachusetts. State Attorney General Maura Healey was granted her request for at least a two-week delay for a Berkshire Superior Court case brought by the company seeking to use eminent domain authority on that land.

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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