RICHMOND -- A cross-state, 100-plus-mile march against Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s potential expansion project will use Richmond as its launching point next weekend, The Eagle has learned.
Dubbed the "Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk" by organizers, hundreds are expected to participate in the symbolic event, where a piece of polyvinyl chloride pipe and a petition to Gov. Deval Patrick will serve as "batons" passed from one team of walkers to the next.
On Sunday, July 6, the Richmond group is scheduled to step off, walking roads that roughly follow the proposed pipeline’s 4-mile route through town and spreading awareness about the proposal through leaflets and word-of-mouth.
"I think we’re going to see a solid turnout of Richmond walkers as well as folks from Columbia County [New York]," said Melanie Masdea, a resident who’s helping to organize the Richmond leg. "It will be a lovely and worthwhile event, and we hope the Board of Selectmen give it their seal of approval."
Tennessee Gas documents indicate the high-pressure, 36-inch line the company wants to build would pass through portions of Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor. It’s part of the 250-mile Northeast Pipeline Expansion Project extending from upstate New York to Dracut, north of Lowell.
After the four-mile Richmond leg, the walk picks up in Pittsfield, Lenox and several more Berkshire County towns, before continuing on to Franklin County and the towns of Ashfield, Conway, Deerfield, Shelburne Falls and Montague.
Finally, on July 26, organizers anticipate the demonstration will reach its destination in Dracut -- with one piece remaining.
On July 30, a group of march participants will gather in Boston Common and present a petition asking Patrick to withdraw support for any new major natural gas imports or interstate pipelines, as well as the electric rate tariff. That tax is the means by which the public is made to pay the cost of the fossil fuel infrastructure, organizers say.
A key organizer of the march, 61-year-old Pepperell attorney Russell Schott, said the march is well-coordinated with local volunteers from Franklin County east, but more Berkshire County volunteers and walkers are needed.
"Richmond is the perfect opportunity for a splash-like start," Schott said in an interview with The Eagle on Wednesday.
The governor coincidentally owns a home in Richmond.
The concept of the march arose during a recent meeting about Tennessee Gas’ proposal in Groton. Since then, the plans have grown along with broader sentiments against the company’s proposal in affected cities and towns -- and non-affected ones, like Northampton -- throughout Massachusetts.
"It came up first during that meeting in Groton but it turns out a lot of other people in the state were thinking the same exact thing," Schott said. "There is now some very unified leadership [among people resisting the proposed pipeline]. A month ago, I didn’t get that sense."
Other major state organizations like Mass Audubon, various land trusts and others have come out against Tennessee Gas’ plans.
The pipeline proposal requires federal and state approvals. The earliest construction date for the $2.75 billion to $3.75 billion project would be April 2017 with completion by November 2018, according to Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas’ parent company.
Many who oppose the project have voiced disillusionment over whether anything can actually be done to prevent the new pipe. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which permits such projects, is viewed as biased towards the energy industry.
But Schott thinks the picture isn’t so bleak.
"Massachusetts has the largest population and wields the most influence of all the New England states," he said. "If we can get Governor Patrick to back away, then maybe a few other governors will do the same, and before you know it the funding piece that supports this thing falls apart."
The road won’t be an easy one. A Conservation Law Foundation report released Tuesday censured the New England States Committee on Energy and the states themselves for "stonewalling" its public records requests for tens of thousands of documents relating to planned gas pipeline and electric transmission infrastructure, for which the public will foot the bill.
"Massachusetts has yet to provide any documents," the report states.
It goes on to allege that deals are being worked out between the states and gas companies "behind closed doors" with "outright hostility to conducting the planning process in the open" and "willingness on the part of state officials to take enormous risks with our money, our region’s energy progress, and our climate."
In Richmond, where an upset public stands to make its biggest statement yet on the matter, organizers are looking to drum up public interest with a free showing of the film "Gasland Part II," at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 2, at the Congregational Church at 1515 State Road.
The controversial film, which concerns the natural gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as bearing directly on the topic at hand because much of the gas Tennessee Gas wants to transport via the proposed line is fracked in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"It’s going to be the first showing in Berkshire County in a town that’s going to be affected by the pipeline," said Susan Lockwood, another Richmond participant. "We’re trying to raise awareness as quickly as possible, because all of this is happening fast."
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