The town of Lenox, Massachusetts is considering whether to join a recently formed coalition to represent environmental and community interests during the federal permitting process for a proposed natural gas pipeline.
Kinder Morgan’s proposed 400-mile natural gas pipeline would run from Pennsylvania through New York’s Capital Region and across Massachusetts, ending in Dracut. The current route would send pipe through Lenox’s watershed and the 500-acre Kennedy Park, according to Select Board Chair Channing Gibson.
“Including our main feeder stream for our water supply and it’s our sole source of drinking water,” Gibson explained. “The fragility of systems like that, especially in small watersheds like ours, requires extra vigilance in terms of protecting it from construction equipment, excavation and deforestation. When you are talking about water, you’re talking a contamination in parts per billion. If there were any leak or any problem that contaminated the supply, and it doesn’t take very much, we would be forced to find an entirely new source of drinking water.”
While Lenox and about 40 other communities and groups along the pipeline’s route have taken votes opposing the pipeline, the Berkshire County town’s unique circumstances have drawn the attention of Northeast Energy Solutions. Vincent DeVito is the attorney for the group.
“We are a group that is not defined as anti-pipeline,” DeVito said. “We are potentially pro-pipeline. What we are really about is making sure that the regulators and other government officials receive sound, accurate, independent information from which to make their determinations. Historically regulators and government officials receive the bulk of their information from the developer. We are offering ourselves as an alternative to developer generated information and there is a need for that.”
Eleanor Tillinghast is with Green Berkshires, one of the eight members of NE Energy Solutions. She says the coalition formed to look at whether the pipeline is needed, any alternatives to it, and bring forth issues that she says have historically mattered to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the licensing authority for the pipeline.
“The watershed is a big issue but there are also significant environmental impacts,” Tillinghast said. “This is a big project that will be built through areas that do not have energy infrastructure. A lot of conserved land, federally and state protected land, land that has received funding from federal agencies with restrictions about its use and land that has been set aside for agricultural purposes. There are a lot of parcels of land along the stretch that would be negatively impacted by this pipeline. That’s what initially brought many of our groups together is concern over impacts to land, water, watersheds and rare species. Also the commitment of Berkshire residents to protecting large swaths of land.”
Early opposition has included a push against the fracked gas the pipeline would carry. DeVito, who worked as a regulator for the Massachusetts Public Utility Commission and was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs, says one-issue complaints usually don’t have much influence with FERC.
“Those type of one issue interveners will be relegated to a footnote status,” said DeVito.
Gibson says the Lenox Select Board is grateful NE Energy Solutions approached the town, but is still reviewing the costs and complexities of having its own legal representation. Joining the coalition comes at a cost to support legal and expert fees as it plans to file with FERC for intervener status. Larger groups like Green Berkshires, Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Richmond Land Trust and the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition have chipped in at least $20,000 each. While FERC is the body to issue a certificate of public necessity, which grants a developer eminent domain, DeVito says local bodies can still appeal.
“Some developers would have you believe that FERC basically says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and localities, you really don’t have too much to say about that,” DeVito said. “Well, that’s simply not the case. I know for a fact that FERC is very interested in what state interests and what local interests are for any given project in the country. So for folks to develop the narrative that FERC is not going to be too concerned about what localities and states say is absolutely off-base. They probably know better, but it’s a misleading narrative intended to pacify or ameliorate potential opposition.”
At a recent special town meeting, Lenox voters affirmed the town-owned 965-acre reservoir is protected by Massachusetts Article 97 legislation and conservation restrictions held by Lenox and the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. It’s unclear whether there will be a vote to join NE Energy Solutions at the next Lenox Select Board meeting Nov. 26th. If approved, the pipeline is expected to be in service by Nov. 2018.