Responding to a public outcry over a major website glitch, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has extended the public comment deadline on Kinder Morgan's proposed $5 billion natural gas pipeline project until Jan. 15. The previous deadline had been Wednesday.
The 412-mile project proposed by Kinder Morgan's subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., is undergoing a formal review by the federal regulators, with a decision anticipated late this year.
According to FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen, an unspecified website malfunction between Dec. 24-27 and again from Dec. 31-Jan. 3 prevented potential intervenors from commenting on the pipeline plan. The comments can be filed to the eFiling and eComment pages at www.ferc.gov.
Intervenors — individuals, groups, towns — become participants in the commission's review of the pipeline application, gain access to additional information and have the right to file a legal action against an agency decision to the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal.
An opposition group, No Fracked Gas in Mass., issued a statement speculating that the government website crashed because too many people were trying to file comments.
The commission did not give a specific reason for the website problem, but blamed it on an "inadvertent error." Young-Allen stated that the comment deadline has been extended "to provide additional time for those who have been inconvenienced."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, had urged the federal regulators to extend the comment period. "What's another week at this point in time? People want to weigh in," he said.
Project opponents had contacted The Eagle and other media outlets this past weekend to complain about the shutdown of the commission's website.
Those seeking to file comments had received an error message stating that "inclement weather that has resulted in the Office of Personnel Management closing Federal government offices in Washington."
After the commission announced its deadline extension, Kathryn Eiseman of the Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast stated: "From individual landowners to members of Congress, people swung into action to make this right. It is heartening to see FERC ceding to reason."
Another project opponent, Rosemary Wessel of the No Fracked Gas group, said: "It definitely shows that people need to speak up when they see something unfair. Extending to make up for what they're calling an 'inadvertent error' was the least they could do."
According to a spokesman for state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, he called the commission about the website issue.
"The Senate president views this as positive development as a result of conversations between our office and FERC officials, as well as the many voices of the public who expressed their concern," said Pete Wilson, Rosenberg's press secretary.
U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, said he had been "very concerned" about the problem, adding that "Massachusetts families deserve a fair and open process."
Kinder Morgan's preferred route for the natural gas pipeline enters Berkshire County from Stephentown, N.Y., and crosses portions of Hancock, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor.
It then passes through parts of Franklin County before looping into southern New Hampshire through 17 communities before re-entering Massachusetts and ending at the existing terminal in Dracut, north of Lowell.
If the federal regulators complete their review of the project and issue a decision by next November, the company aims to put the pipeline into service in November 2018 after nearly two years of construction.
Information from masslive.com was included in this report.