RICHMOND - A proposed new natural gas line in Massachusetts would fork northward from an existing line in Richmond, pass through Lenox and continue toward the Greenfield area on its way to Dracut.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. began notifying communities along the proposed route last month that it would be contacting property owners for permission to do preliminary survey work in the areas under consideration. No final route for the 36-inch gas line has been determined, according to the company, and the permitting process before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hasn't commenced.
"Our impression is that they are trying to get a baseline and [determine] the feasibility of it," said Matthew Kerwood, town administrator in Richmond.
He said a letter from Tennessee Gas explaining the preliminary steps was sent to the town about a month ago. Kerwood said the proposal, as he understands it, is to construct a branch line from the current line that extends from New York state into Richmond, and that it would head north in the vicinity of the Berkshire Beagle Club and Dublin Road in the town.
He said town officials met with a company representative and have talked with a corporate spokesman about the proposal. "We certainly will remain in contact with Tennessee Gas and will recommend public meetings if this unfolds," Kerwood said.
Mary Ellen Deming, interim town manager in Lenox, said selectmen were notified that property owners would be approached to allow basic survey work.
Her understanding, Deming said, is "that this is very preliminary."
The proposed route would pass through the vicinity of Eastover, local officials were told.
In the letter sent to officials in communities along the proposed route, Tennessee Gas states that it plans to upgrade its pipeline system "within New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. As configured, the proposed project will result in the construction of approximately 250 miles of new pipeline."
That mileage figure would include legs coming off the new main line, which crosses northern Massachusetts, passing through Berkshire, Franklin, Worcester and Middlesex counties to Dracut, just north of Lowell. Among the legs are one that would extend into New Hampshire.
The existing company pipeline enters Massachusetts at Richmond and then slopes south toward Springfield and the Connecticut line. Legs extend north into the Pioneer Valley, and another leg extends north into northern Berkshire County.
If the plan clears the regulatory process, construction would begin in spring 2017 and the line could begin operating in 2018, according to the company's proposed timetable. The preliminary assessment by Tennessee Gas includes gauging customer and shipper contractual commitments, which the company said are necessary before the project can move forward.
Christopher C. Farrell, a spokesman for Berkshire Gas Co., said the company would not offer specific comments on the proposal until a plan is filed with regulators. However, he added, "Massachusetts needs additional interstate pipeline capacity to meet the growing demand for natural gas in the commonwealth. Additional capacity in our service area would support growth and economic expansion."
Berkshire Gas is a customer of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, operating in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties. According to Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas Co.'s parent firm, Kinder Morgan Inc. of Houston, the proposal is in response to an increased demand for natural gas in the region, including for heating and for gas-fired electric power generation facilities.
Tennessee Gas transports and stores natural gas for its customers with a pipeline from Texas and the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast.
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