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Cost, benefits of natural gas pipeline project questioned

Paul Tuthill
Opponents of a natural gas pipeline proposed by Eversource rallied in front of Springfield City Hall

Elected officials press utility company, regulators for answers

Elected officials continue to question a utility company’s plan to build a natural gas pipeline in western Massachusetts.

The project proposed by Eversource to build a five-mile long 16-inch diameter pipeline between Longmeadow and the South End neighborhood of Springfield has raised concerns about safety, traffic disruptions during construction, the impact on ratepayers, and whether it makes sense to build new gas infrastructure when fossil fuels are supposed to be phased out in the coming years.

Meeting with Eversource officials last week, Democratic State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield said he raised all those questions.

“And as part of the safety concerns can Springfield have a host community agreement to reduce the rates for Springfield residents since we are taking the safety risks in providing services to the suburban community?” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who is House Chairman of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, said he wants to assess the risks associated with each of the four possible routes for the pipeline identified by Eversource.

“We will continue having conversations to better understand the project as they have presented it,” Gonzalez said.

During a meeting last month of the Springfield City Council’s Sustainability and Environment Committee, Eversource representatives were peppered with questions about the pipeline project. Joe Mitchell, a company communications official, repeatedly stressed the project is needed to mitigate the risk of older infrastructure failing and will not bring additional gas to the region.

“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. The pipeline would send natural gas from a new proposed delivery station in Longmeadow to an existing pressure regulation facility in Springfield. The gas is currently delivered to Springfield through a 70-year-old pipe that runs beneath the Memorial Avenue Bridge over the Connecticut River.

Eversource has put a $40 million price tag on the entire project.

Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman is calling for an independent analysis of the costs and benefits of the project.

“What will this cost the ratepayers? Who will make money off it? What will the increase to reliability, if any, will there be? What are all the options that can be considered?” said Lederman. “That is what we’re hearing from folks.”

In a statement this week, Lederman also called on the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to refuse any request by Eversource that would allow shareholders to profit from the pipeline project if it is necessary for public safety, as the utility claims.

A coalition of environmental and community activists is campaigning against the pipeline project.

Springfield City Councilor-elect Zaida Govan participated in an anti-pipeline rally this month. She said she’ll lobby her colleagues on the City Council to deny local permits Eversource will need to dig up the streets.

“I didn’t run just because it is an elected position and something to do, I did it because I want to make some serious good change in the city of Springfield,” Govan said.

Next month, Eversource is expected to submit the project proposal to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board beginning what is typically a multi-year regulatory proceeding.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.