City councilors question impact of natural gas pipeline project
Underground pipeline would go from Longmeadow to the South End
Proposed routes have been revealed for a controversial natural gas pipeline in western Massachusetts.
Eversource has proposed four possible routes for a roughly 5-mile-long pipeline connecting Longmeadow and the South End neighborhood of Springfield. One route – although not the one the utility said it prefers – would take the pipeline through part of Forest Park.
Joe Mitchell of Eversource said the project is needed to keep natural gas flowing to the city in the event a 70-year-old pipe under the Memorial Avenue Bridge should fail.
“This is a reliability project,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to create a loop to mitigate an existing risk and it is not an expansion project.”
Speaking at a hearing of the Springfield City Council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee that was held remotely earlier this week, utility officials said if something were to happen to the old pipeline 58,000 customers could be without gas for weeks.
“This is a fundamentally very important project that we have to move forward,” Mitchell said.
The project was initially conceived by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which was acquired by Eversource in 2020. Environmental activists have protested it. They contend no new pipelines should be built in the state because the use of fossil fuels to heat buildings has to be reduced.
The 16-inch diameter pipeline would send natural gas from a new proposed delivery station in Longmeadow to the existing Eversource Bliss Street pressure regulation station. It would be built beneath existing streets and no land-takings would be needed, according to the utility.
City Council President Marcus Williams said constructing the pipeline in the areas proposed would result in “massive disruption.”
The project would require local permits, said Springfield DPW director Chris Cignoli.
“This is where (city engineers) get into detailed surveys, detailed locations, how long construction will take in a particular area, impacts to traffic, and all sorts of stuff we will be reviewing,” Cignoli said.
Ward 6 City Councilor Victor Davila, who represents many of the neighborhoods the pipeline would go through, strongly objected to routing it through Forest Park.
“That park is a jewel of the neighborhood,” Davila said. “And that park needs to be protected and it needs to be in pristine condition.”
The total price tag for the project, including the cost to build the new delivery station in Longmeadow, was put at $40 million. City Councilor Jesse Lederman questioned the impact on Eversource’s ratepayers.
“So, I plan to call for an independent cost-benefit analysis relative to the rate increase and I am hopeful the DPU (Department of Public Utilities) will be agreeable to that,” Lederman said. He added he would call for the DPU to hold hearings in the city of Springfield.
The Eversource spokesman said the project proposal will be submitted to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board later this year to open a regulatory proceeding that typically lasts two years.
Eversource has scheduled two virtual public meetings next month to discuss the project with abutters.