Berkshire Lawmakers And Environmental Advocates Balk At Bill To Allow Pipeline

Jul 30, 2015

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the Connecticut Expansion Project would serve Yankee Gas. As of February 1, 2015, Yankee Gas and other Northeast Utilities-owned companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire were renamed Eversource. 

Environmental advocates and Berkshire lawmakers are raising concerns over legislation filed by an eastern Massachusetts lawmaker that would allow a pipeline project to run through protected land in the western part of the state.

The proposed Connecticut Expansion project would serve Eversource, Connecticut Natural and Southern Connecticut gas utilities in Connecticut via a 13-mile pipeline through Albany County in New York, Massachusetts’ Berkshire and Hampden counties and Hartford County in Connecticut. Representative Garrett Bradley of Hingham, about 20 miles south of Boston, has filed a bill that would pave the way for Tennessee Gas Pipeline to obtain permanent easements in the Berkshire County town of Sandisfield. The land in Otis State Forest is protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution, which serves as a legislative check on conservation areas. Jane Winn of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team is working with the group Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline, or STOP.

“We are absolutely appalled that a representative from eastern Mass. would file this legislation to take protected lands in the Berkshires out of that protection,” Winn said. “It just seems absolutely arrogant and wrong.”

Tennessee Gas is a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan. Company vice president of public affairs Allen Fore says Kinder Morgan’s pipes already run through protected lands in Massachusetts. There are pipelines on the Sandisfield section that were laid before the land was protected. Fore says the company reached out to many legislators about how to move what he called a routine process forward.

“I don’t want to presume what will happen in any way,” Fore said. “He’s [Bradley] a member of leadership. Leadership is taking a role in this and we’ll see how the process plays out.”

Representative Bradley, a Democrat, is the second assistant majority leader in the House. He was not available for comment in time for broadcast. Sandisfield falls in Democratic State Representative Smitty Pignatelli’s district. He says he told the proponents of the pipeline he wouldn’t file the bill unless the town of Sandisfield asked him to.

“It’s not unprecedented for a legislator to file a bill in another legislator’s district,” Pignatelli said. “I joked with him the other day that he couldn’t find Sandisfield on a map with GPS, being from Hingham. That being said he’s entitled to do it and clearly the pipeline proponents were trying to find somebody. He was a warm body. He filed the bill and doesn’t seem to care. It’s not unprecedented, disappointing but it’s not unprecedented.”

“We’re quite disappointed that someone who really isn’t from our area and doesn’t know the concerns actually put the legislation forward,” said Sandisfield town administrator Lisa Blackmer.

Select Chair Alice Boyd echoed the concerns, saying townspeople plan to speak at a public hearing planned for the fall.

A two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate is needed to pass what’s called a land taking. Pignatelli, a state lawmaker of 12 years, says he doesn’t know of one that hasn’t passed, adding that he’s not too concerned at this point.

“We’re going to have to really lobby hard to convince our colleagues that this is not a good idea, but it’s a real uphill fight,” said Pignatelli.

State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield says he has serious concerns and is opposed to the legislation.

“Bare bones when you get right down to it, this is a project that with an impact in Massachusetts that will only benefit Connecticut,” said Downing.

He adds that the situation is unique.

“Generally that legislation is filed by the representative and the senator whose district it’s impacting,” Downing said. “In this case we’ve already sort of crossed that threshold. So I think my colleagues will look at the legislation differently than they would if it was Smitty and I filing a bill.”

Downing says he doesn’t want to speak for Representative Bradley, but the argument is that there needs to be more pipeline capacity in New England to lower energy costs.

The legislation would have Tennessee Gas pay Massachusetts for the area it would use to ensure no net loss of protected land. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not fully approved the project, a ruling that could supersede state statutes.