Eagle Tribune Covers the Dracut, MA Scoping Meeting 8-11-15

This wonderful article appeared in the Eagle Tribune on 8-12-15 and covers the FERC Scoping Meeting held in Dracut, MA.


Pipeline opponents pack public hearing

Eagle Tribune 8-12-15

By Lauren DiTullio lditullio@eagletribune.com 


DRACUT — Representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission assembled in Dracut Tuesday were not there to respond to comments from residents concerned about the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline, only to listen.

During several hours in the packed auditorium of Dracut High School, they got an earful.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather public opinion that FERC members will incorporate into their report on the potential environmental impact of the Northeast Energy Direct project, a controversial proposed natural gas pipeline that would stretch from Pennsylvania to Dracut.

Eric Tomasi, who ran the meeting and will write the report, said the FERC’s responsibility is to do a thorough analysis of the plans that have been drafted by Tennessee Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.

“You live here. Some of you have lived here your entire lives. Some of you have had multiple generations here. What we want to know is, what’s important to you?” he said.

Similar to earlier public meetings on the subject, the answers varied. The pipeline’s opponents, including many public officials who spoke at the Tuesday meeting, cite public safety concerns in the event of an emergency and disruption of wetlands and conservation lands as reasons the project should not go forward.

“The only way to logically avoid environmental impacts is to recommend to your commissioners that no action be taken,” State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, whose district includes Methuen and North Andover.

Many of those who spoke Tuesday night would also see damage to their property during the construction process. Some critics claim there is no need for a pipeline as large as the one Kinder Morgan proposes, unless the company plans to ship the gas overseas.

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, who represents Methuen and Haverhill, said the proposed pipeline route passes behind her home and echoed concerns from her Methuen constituents about the lack of payoff for the city.

She added that she has had difficulty getting Kinder Morgan employees to provide detailed information about the proposal. Katie Enos, a representative from Congresswoman Niki Tsongas’s office, echoed that concern.

“I have asked several questions of Kinder Morgan and have yet to receive answers,” Campbell said.

Kinder Morgan Vice President for Public Affairs Allen Fore said Tuesday that he has met with multiple elected officials and taken their testimony, as well as comments from individual property owners, into account. The company’s constant adjustments to the proposed route reflect that, he said.

“We listened. We responded. We adjusted,” Fore said.

The main pipeline would pass under about 64 miles of land in Massachusetts and 71 miles in New Hampshire. An additional 60 miles of smaller pipelines branching off from the main line, called laterals, are also planned in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The Lynnfield lateral, which passes through Andover, increased in diameter from 20 to 24 inches in Kinder Morgan’s latest filing with the FERC.

The project calls for 418 miles of pipeline, nine compressor stations and 13 meter stations along the main pipeline and its eight laterals.

The lateral called the Haverhill Lateral, though it is not located in Haverhill, passes through much of Methuen along its proposed route. Methuen City Council Chairman Ronald Marsan stood up at the meeting to request that Kinder Morgan “take the necessary steps to avoid our community.”

Last week’s Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board hearing on the pipeline served as a warm-up for Tuesday night’s marathon meeting, and featured many of the same speakers.

Proponents of the pipeline point to New England’s spike in energy rates during recent years, especially in the winter. Some union laborers came out on Tuesday in support of the project because of an agreement between Kinder Morgan and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, the umbrella organization for many unions in the state, that would produce about 3,000 jobs for union members, Trades Council president Frank Callahan said.

The laborers were booed at the podium, prompting Tomasi to remind the audience to “respect everyone’s right to speak for three minutes.”

Many speakers said they did not feel the public were given the opportunity to ask informed questions because Kinder Morgan’s plans are still vague. The company has said they anticipate filing their formal application with the FERC in October.

The meeting in Dracut was the thirteenth of 14 “scoping sessions” the FERC has scheduled to collect comments from the public. The last one will take place in Lunenburg Wednesday night. Many speakers requested more time for public comment and more sessions spread across the pipeline’s proposed route.

Many said the process should not move forward until a study on the need for the project, called for by Attorney General Maura Healey, has been completed in October.

Tomasi said he anticipates the FERC will make a “large data request” of Kinder Morgan in the near future to fill in some of the gaps in their latest filing with the commission. So far, he said, 3,600 comments on the project from the public are on file.

Chris Hebert, who lives next to an existing compressor station run by Kinder Morgan in Pelham, N.H., said he has had difficulty getting the company to take his concerns seriously when he has smelled a strong odor of natural gas outside his home.

“I don’t know what people are expecting, but when you have a problem, they don’t do anything about it,” he said. “That’s basically all I have to say.”