Lowell Sun Covers the Draucut Scoping Meeting with FERC 8-11-15

This article covering the Dracut Scoping Meeting with FERC appeared in the Lowell Sun on 8-12-15

http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_28626053/pipeline-foes-out-force

Pipeline foes out in force

Crowd packs Dracut forum on disputed gas proposal

By Todd Feathers, tfeathers@lowellsun.com

Lowell Sun 8-12-15

DRACUT — During a public-comment hearing that was scheduled to last past midnight Tuesday, federal energy regulators collected a litany of concerns about a controversial natural-gas pipeline that would terminate in Dracut.

The meeting, held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was held primarily to solicit information about potential environmental impacts from the proposed pipeline. And while many of the speakers addressed subjects such as air and soil quality, a large portion questioned whether Kinder Morgan, the company behind the project, has done its due diligence in studying the pipeline route and in disclosing details about the construction, operational and environmental hazards it may pose.

“I respectfully request that you painstakingly examine this proposal for every health, environmental and safety concern,” state Rep. Colleen Garry said to the representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “This is not a not-in-my-backyard argument. This is about the greater good — the greater good of Dracut.”

Opponents of the pipeline from across the state and New Hampshire congregated outside Dracut Senior High School hours before the meeting began at 7 p.m., holding “Stop the Pipeline” signs, handing out T-shirts and preparing their remarks.

A mother and daughter from Pepperell arrived at 3 p.m. with portable chairs, and were the first in a long line of people waiting to sign up for a speaking slot.

Speakers were limited to three minutes, but Eric Tomasi, a FERC environmental engineer who ran the hearing, reminded the crowd several times that they could submit their thoughts in writing to the commission if they were unable to fit their comments into the allotted time or did not get the chance to speak.

A total of 84 people, including elected officials, signed up to speak before the capacity crowd in the auditorium. As of 9:30, only 16 members of the public had spoken, out of the 64 who signed up.

A Sun reporter was not able to stay for the entire hearing.

For the most part, the crowd, which was overwhelmingly anti-pipeline, was respectful. They gave standing ovations to some speakers, and many waved signs throughout.

But when the first pro-pipeline speaker of the night, Catherine Gaynor, a member of the Laborers International Union of North America local 429 in Lowell, began her address, several people booed.

“(High energy prices) not only hurts our family budgets, but local businesses will not hire and expand without gas capacity,” she said.

As she walked out of the auditorium, a man along her path said “that’s a bucket of lies.”

Others questioned whether New England would benefit from the pipeline in a more formal fashion.

Rich Cowan, a member of the Dracut Pipeline Awareness Group, asked FERC to examine whether the region’s energy needs could be satisfied by other pipelines operating below peak capacity, rather than the construction of an entirely new line that could transport up to 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

“We don’t build highways just to build highways,” he said. “The size of the proposed construction simply does not make sense.”

Diane McGary, who lives near the site of a proposed compressor station in Dracut, told the FERC representatives that she is worried about the noise and chemicals her family would have to endure during a planned “blowdown,” when the station expels gas to relieve pipeline pressure.

“What will be released during the venting and blowdown?” she said. “We know that they will happen, but we don’t know what they will be. That’s TBD — to be determined.”

In Kinder Morgan’s most recent draft resource report, which the company must update with more information as it prepares to file a formal application to build the pipeline with FERC in October, many details were labeled “TBD.”

The missing information was a primary cause for concern among the elected officials who spoke.

Staffers representing Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas were joined by Garry, state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, state Rep. Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, and others in asking FERC to extend its public-comment period so that interested parties can fully examine Kinder Morgan’s filings and conduct their own analyses.

Tomasi, the FERC representative, said that even though the comment period ends Aug. 31, the commission will still review and factor comments made after that date into their decision.

His goal, he said, is to collect suggestions from residents about issues his staff should examine as they prepare a comprehensive environmental impact analysis. After that report is done, there will be an additional public comment period before FERC’s five commissioners make a final decision on the project.

“We know there’s a lot of concern in the community,” Tomasi said. “We’re going to do our own distinct analysis of every aspect of this project.”

Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter and Tout @ToddFeathers.

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