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Pipeline Project Receives Permits, Opponents Weigh Options

 A map of the Connecticut Expansion Project
A map of the Connecticut Expansion Project

A controversial pipeline expansion project in southwestern Massachusetts has inched closer to reality with the granting of a federal permit. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection granted Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. a federal 401 Water Quality Certification for its Connecticut Expansion Project.In its June 29 ruling MassDEP found that after a technical review of the application, the project will not violate state water quality standards or applicable laws.  DEP laid out 47 certification conditions including restoration and preservation for the roughly 4-mile pipeline that would run within or next to existing rights of way in Sandisfield and Agawam. Jane Winn is with the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, which is among a number of area groups looking to stop the project.

“With that certificate specifically we’ve gone through and looked at all the hurdles that Kinder Morgan has to leap before they can actually do any work,” Winn said. “Starting out with the 21-day appeal period which I believe ends July 20 so that we’re working with other organizations to figure out what grounds we might have to appeal it on.”

DEP says the project will result in the discharge of dredged or fill material into more than 450,000 square feet of waters of the Clam River and Worthington Brook. Mitigation measures include Tennessee Gas creating, enhancing or preserving more than 35 acres of off-site forest and wetlands to be granted to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. Spectacle Pond Brook and other waterways will also be restored.

Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, still needs approval from Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Work on the pipeline is on hold until July 29 by order of Berkshire Superior Court. Judge John Agostini granted the company permission to access Otis State Forest, but stayed the order to give state lawmakers time to act on legislation allowing access to the constitutionally-protected land. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office argued for the stay at the April hearing. In June, Attorney General Maura Healey said her office was still weighing its options.

“This is an area where I think we’ve been quite aggressive in standing up for state constitutional principles and Article 97,” Healey said. “We aggressively litigated that issue. The judge made his decision. The court has ruled. So per the court’s ruling we’re waiting to see what if any action the Legislature takes before the end of July. But, we’re going to continue to assess and evaluate our options including the extent to which we consider taking an appeal of the underlying court decision.”

Kinder Morgan’s appeal to lift the stay was denied. Smitty Pignatelli represents Sandisfield and the rest of southern Berkshire County in the State House. The Democrat opposes the project. Pignatelli says area lawmakers are working with the attorney general’s office to decide whether it’s a good idea to bring the Article 97 issue up for a vote before the legislative session wraps up later this month.

“If the federal government can come in and circumvent state law anyways, what best avenue can we take to protect the town,” Pignatelli said. “That’s the conversation we’re having right now.”

Pignatelli hopes landowners or an opposition group appeals the water certificate to potentially delay work and keep Kinder Morgan’s feet to the fire. He adds that he hasn’t heard a definitive answer on the attorney general’s office appealing the court decision.

“I get a strong sense that they don’t feel that an appeal would be successful based on what Judge Agostini’s original ruling was that pretty much said that the state cannot preempt federal law,” Pignatelli said. “So I think the real pressure needs to be imposed on the federal delegation and the federal agencies.”

In March the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Tennessee Gas a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the Connecticut Expansion Project.

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