The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has scheduled a public hearing in Pittsfield later this month — the first of six statewide — ahead of a ruling on whether to grant Tennessee Gas Co. eminent domain rights to survey properties for its proposed 412-mile, $5.2 billion natural gas pipeline.
The order, if approved by the DPU, would give the Kinder Morgan subsidiary the power to force resistant landowners to grant access by taking land for right-of-way survey easements.
The company has identified nearly 450 properties across the state — including 39 in Berkshire County — along the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline route for compulsory land surveying because owners have refused access.
The listed Berkshire properties include four in Hancock, 13 in Lanesborough, three in Cheshire, five in Dalton, 10 in Hinsdale and four in Windsor. Those six towns are along the company's preferred route for pipeline project that is undergoing a rigorous evaluation by federal regulators. A sliver of state-owned land in Peru also is on the route.
The Pittsfield public hearing is set for 7 p.m. March 29 in the Boland Theatre at Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St.
In its petition to the DPU, Tennessee Gas maintains the surveys are necessary in order to provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with more information about the environmental impact of the project. The commission is not expected to issue a decision until November of this year, at the earliest.
Formal notification of the public hearings was included in a legal notice from the DPU published on Monday in The Eagle and other media in counties along the pipeline route.
Tennessee Gas filed its original petition to the state seeking access to the properties on Jan. 19. A preliminary hearing schedule was issued by the DPU at that time.
The company is seeking the order allowing it to enter landowners' properties for survey activities within 200 feet on each side of the proposed pipeline route's center line. The surveys are intended to study "civil, archaeological and cultural resources, wetlands and water body delineations and endangered or rare species," Tennessee Gas said.
The list of properties targeted by the Kinder Morgan subsidiary for land surveying includes Holiday Brook Farm off Route 9 in Dalton.
The civil surveys involve establishing property boundaries along the pipeline route, according to the company. In its filing with the DPU, the document states that "Tennessee has in good faith made efforts to obtain survey permission from owners of survey properties, including sending at least two letters requesting survey permission and attempting to discuss the request in person or via telephone."
The owners of the listed properties have refused to grant Tennessee permission to conduct the surveys, the petition to the state asserted.
The document also states that the surveys would be restricted to the 400-foot wide corridor along the route and that agents would not come closer than 25 feet to a house.
In its petition, the company cites a need for the surveys to "secure permits and commence construction" and that in five previous cases, the state agency has granted orders to other natural gas companies compelling landowners to submit to the same type of surveys.
The company attorneys also argue that no state or local permits are required if the DPU grants the order.
Kinder Morgan is seeking a thumbs-up on the pipeline proposal from federal regulators so it can begin construction early next year and put it into service by November 2018.
Most pipeline applications win approval from the federal company if a company can prove that its project meets requirements for "public convenience and necessity."
Berkshire Gas is among distributors that have signed preliminary agreements with Kinder Morgan to purchase the additional natural gas supply if the pipeline is built. Its parent company has invested $80 million in the project, and new customers in its Pioneer Valley service area are being denied service because of what Berkshire Gas describes as a supply shortage.
The state agency will decide whether to allow compulsory surveys based on oral and written comments from affected landowners and the general public as well as responses from the company to any written questions from the DPU.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
Properties targeted ...
Thirty-nine Berkshire property owners are on a company list issued in January seeking a state order for compulsory pipeline route surveys. Tennessee Gas states that the landowners have denied permission for access by surveyors.
Town-by-town, the list as of Jan. 14 included designated properties at the following locations:
Hancock: Main Street; Taylor, Hancock and Potter Mountain roads
Lanesborough: North Main, Prospect, Bridge and Silver streets; Goodall and Old Orchard roads
Cheshire: Nobody's and Ingalls roads
Dalton: Forest Hill Drive; Cleveland and Adams roads; North Mountain Street
Hinsdale: Fred Schnopp, Old Windsor and Adams roads; Forest Hill Drive
Windsor: Peru, East Windsor and River roads
To submit comments ...
The DPU is continuing to accept public comment until May 6. Written comments and verbal statements by the public at scheduled hearings are given equal consideration.
An original and two copies of written comments should be mailed to Mark D. Marini, Secretary, Department of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston MA 02110.
An electronic copy must be e-mailed to each of the following three addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, to Hearing Officer Stephen August at email@example.com. and to company attorney James Messenger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The company attorney can be contacted directly by e-mail, by phone at 617-902-0098 or by letter to James L. Messenger, Gordon & Rees LLP, 745 Atlantic Ave., 4th floor, Boston MA 02111.
To reach the hearing officer: 617-305-3622, email@example.com, or by mail to Stephen August, Siting Division, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, One South Station, 5th Floor, Boston MA 02110.