PITTSFIELD -- The city wants Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to shift its proposed new natural gas line route away from Pittsfield's watershed area in the town of Washington.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the company contacted city officials earlier this year as part of ongoing survey work in a number of Massachusetts communities related to a proposed new line stretching from Richmond to Dracut in the state.
"We found this went through some of the most sensitive areas of the watershed," Bianchi said. "We are very concerned about that."
He added that the city has informed the gas company's parent firm, the Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc., that it wants the route shifted away from the watershed area. The watershed land, which the city owns, is just east of the Pittsfield-Washington line.
City Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said the city received an initial visit from a company representative in January. Later, city officials superimposed the proposed gas line route onto a map of the area, which showed it running through the Pittsfield watershed, he said.
Richard N. Wheatley, corporate spokesman for Kinder Morgan, said in an email Friday, "I can confirm that, in the last several days, we received information from the city of Pittsfield regarding concerns over watershed routing."
Wheatley added that information received from Collingwood is being reviewed and a meeting with city officials has yet to be scheduled.
The gas company is conducting survey work and assessing a preliminary route for the 36-inch gas line, which would deliver natural gas extracted in other states. The route would parallel an existing line from New York state into Richmond, and then head northeast through Lenox and other towns before turning east near Greenfield toward Dracut.
Under the gas line permitting process before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Kinder Morgan has yet to submit a formal permit request, which would include an exact map of the route.
Bianchi said he is not opposed to the line, only to a route through the watershed area. He said greater natural gas capacity in the state would help stabilize electricity rates, as gas increasingly is a cleaner-burning choice used to generate power, as well as provide heat.
An 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. The new line would run parallel to the current line in Richmond before heading north into Lenox and beyond.
Citizen groups, including nofrackedgasinmass.org, are organizing to oppose the new line. Concerns raised include that gas extracted with the controversial fracking process would pass through the line, and that a swath of scenic land in the right-of-way would be denuded during the construction.
Proponents argue that the region must develop its natural gas capacity to reduce a reliance on oil other fossil fuels or nuclear power, and ensure a less expensive fuel for the production of electricity.
Mass Audubon is among property owners that have denied the gas company access to do the preliminary survey work. One of the organization's sites is in the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. Other landowners along the route have allowed the work to proceed.
In some areas, landowners who have refused permission for surveying have received a secondary letter from the firm that mentions a formal hearing process before the state Department of Public Utilities. The company could apply to the DPU for authorization to do the work.
If the project clears the federal regulatory process, construction could begin in 2017 and the line could begin operating in 2018, according to the company's proposed timetable.
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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