SANDISFIELD -- A state official this week said a plan by Tennessee Gas Co. to install a third natural gas pipeline through the town would have significant environmental impact.
In a public hearing at Town Hall, Department of Conservation and Recreation Ecology Director Nancy Putnam laid out a series of environmental concerns about the proposal -- and she took the company to task for not properly maintaining the right of way for its two existing pipelines that pass through the town.
"The wetlands along the [existing lines] are not being protected. Vehicles are passing through those areas continually," she said. "This is not typically allowed in Massachusetts. You're supposed to be following best management practices."
The company is seeking to add a 3.8-mile, 36-inch diameter storage loop to one of Sandisfield's two existing gas lines in order to supply its Connecticut markets.
It's part of an $81 million Connecticut Expansion Project, 13 total miles of new line for which the company seeks approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company has said Sandisfield stands to gain around $100,000 annually in new tax revenue.
The project is separate from a new pipeline the company is proposing from Richmond through northern Massachusetts.
Sandisfield residents voted unanimously to "stand in opposition" to the company's plan at annual town meeting late last month.
At last week's hearing, Putnam said the work would adversely affect biodiversity, cause erosion and require the removal of old oak and ash trees that also serve as habitats. Further, she said, the pipeline would traverse and alter numerous wetlands and vernal pools, increase the spread of invasive plant species like phragmites and permanently remove more than one million gallons of water from Spectacle Pond.
Putnam also noted the proposed construction area consists of rocky terrain, mostly, making for rough work -- and tactics.
"I would say the majority of the stretch that has to be cleared is full of large boulders and bedrock," she said. "It's not just a few spots; this is very difficult terrain. The amount of alteration that will have to occur in order for you to flatten it, then actually trench it, is going to be huge."
Company representatives who gave a presentation on the plans at the hearing said they don't anticipate any blasting.
However, project manager Suzan Lacey said, "We are definitely going to have a blasting plan."
Around 15 residents attended Tuesday's meeting, raising concerns similar to those voiced by Putnam.
Putnam and Sandisfield Selectman Patrick Barrett echoed a request for more time for the public to review and submit comments on the 1,000-plus-page project outline prepared by Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas, before it progresses further.
"I don't think it's an unreasonable request," Barrett said. "This is a small town. Unfortunately, we don't have a team of professionals to go through this."
The company had planned to stop taking public comments on the proposal on June 20. However, in the wake of Tuesday's hearing, the company announced it would extend public comment by several weeks until July 3.
Mark C. Gardella, vice president of AECOM, a company Kinder Morgan hired to help plan the project, defended the plans after residents said they'd found habitats and endangered species along the existing pipeline paths in town.
"You're walking down an existing pipeline right-of-way and finding threatened endangered species," Gardella said. "We didn't destroy them previously; they will be here in 20, 30 years. We're not here to destroy the environment."
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