Kinder Morgan is doubling down on its preferred route for a proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline project through central Berkshire County, the Pioneer Valley and a swath of southern New Hampshire, telling federal regulators several alternative proposals are non-starters.
In a New Year's Eve filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the company's engineers detailed how a suggested hybrid route alongside an existing pipeline through parts of Richmond, the state-protected Kampoosa Bog Drainage Area in Stockbridge and Lee, and towns to the south, then connecting to a 19-mile stretch along the Massachusetts Turnpike, would be impractical and environmentally damaging.
The company told regulators that the alternative, which would leave the Pike near Blandford, rejoin an existing route that dips into Connecticut and then forge a new pathway parallel to I-90 through far western Boston suburbs would be much longer, require more land for construction right-of-ways and cause significantly more cultural and environmental impacts.
The route suggested for consideration by the commission also would disrupt the critical habitat of threatened and endangered species. It would require 60 miles of new or rerouted pipeline loops, called "laterals," to North Adams — including a crossing of the Appalachian Trail in Cheshire — and to Greenfield, Northampton, Fitchburg, Concord and Nashua, N.H., engineers stated.
The result would be "a significant increase to landowner and environmental impacts, including additional crossings of sensitive resources such as waterbodies, wetlands and forested areas, and likely increased impacts to state-owned lands," according to the company's response.
By contrast, Tennessee Gas wrote that its proposed Northeast Energy Direct route from Wright, N.Y., 40 miles west of Schenectady to Dracut north of Lowell, would save 20 miles along the main pipeline, while crossing 51 fewer streams and 192 fewer wetlands.
Compared to the alternative route, the company wrote that its preferred path would avoid congested areas of Pittsfield and Dalton while eliminating the need for the loop to North Adams. Also, it would cross 15 fewer miles of critical habitat for threatened and endangered species as well as 24 fewer miles of important bird areas and Audubon forest regions.
The preferred "market path" route, part of the $5 billion, 412-mile project from southwest Pennsylvania to northeast Massachusetts, enters the Berkshires from Stephentown, N.Y. and crosses parts of Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor, where an industrial compressor installation would be built.
That route then continues through the Pioneer Valley and 17 southern New Hampshire towns, where opposition has been fierce. It would end at the existing terminal in Dracut, just south of the New Hampshire border.
Although the 40,000-horsepower compressor station in a rural area of Windsor remains on the company's official drawing board, Tennessee Gas stated that it "will continue to identify viable alternative sites for all nine proposed compressor station locations" along the route.
Tennessee wrote that by the end of April 2016, it expects to submit additional information to the commission on alternative locations — those identified by the commission and those developed independently by the company — including further discussion of the reasons why other locations were not selected.
In its Dec. 8 letter to the company, the federal regulators also asked for a closer look at a complex hybrid route through Richmond, Lenox, a slice of southern Pittsfield, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru, continuing through the Pioneer Valley south of Greenfield, but avoiding southern New Hampshire by roughly paralleling Route 2 on the way to Dracut.
Tennessee did not select the hybrid alternative, engineers said, because it would have significantly less "co-location" with existing pipelines, power line and road easements while creating greater impacts on wetlands and on habitats of threatened and endangered species as well as fisheries and wildlife management areas.
That route also would affect "a much greater number of landowners," the company pointed out.
The back-and-forth volley of documents and maps between Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, and the federal commission is part of the formal application period that began on Nov. 20. That's when the company filed at least 6,000 pages of material, plus many more maps, charts, graphics and supplementary details.
Kinder Morgan is seeking a decision from regulators on its proposal by November 2016. If approved on that timetable, the new pipeline could go into service in November 2018 following two years of construction.