LENOX -- Town leaders plan to mount a strong campaign to block the proposed new Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline from any route through the watershed, Kennedy Park or elsewhere inside Lenox borders, including a crossing of the Housatonic River.
The Select Board voted 5-0 to approve a motion expressing "opposition in principle to a high-pressure natural gas pipeline route through the town under any circumstances." But it did not withdraw permission for company surveyors to map town-owned land.
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen urged homeowners to contact him if they're approached by gas company representatives seeking to survey their land. He pledged to keep the community updated on the town's plans.
Separately, a letter drafted by Selectman Warren Archey would ask state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, to help the town fight the line which could be constructed along Tennessee Gas Co.'s existing pipeline corridor through the town.
The proposed letter will be fine-tuned by Archey and Ketchen for further discussion at the July 9 Select Board meeting.
Archey wants the lawmakers to seek a study by the state Department of Environmental Protection examining the pipeline's impact on the town's high-elevation reservoir system.
He voiced concern that "the construction phase will have detrimental effects on water quality and we're extremely concerned that the potential future failure of the pipeline would have truly disastrous effects.
Reading from his proposed letter during Wednesday night's Select Board meeting, Archey said that "not only would the proposed pipeline be troublesome in its location and construction, but it could be extremely detrimental. We need the results of that study as the basis for demanding an alternative route for the gas line."
Archey, a retired state forester, suggested that the final version of the letter be sent to Gov. Deval Patrick because, he said, it appears from the governor's few statements about the project "that it's not a very big concern."
Last February, the Select Board voted to allow Tennessee Gas. Co. surveyors to examine potential routes through the town.
"I don't see any harm in the survey," said Archey. "One thing it does is it verifies the intended route. Certainly, it's going to bother some landowners who are very much opposed."
According to Jeffrey Reel, who lives and works at Eastover Estate and Retreat, a surveyor was "shown the door" by the property's owner, Yingxing Wang, when he attempted to chart a possible route that would cut through the 600-acre retreat and adjacent wetlands.
Selectman David Roche, noting the town's limited resources, said that "the money we do have I'd like to see used to oppose the pipeline itself. Let's use it all where it would be most effective.
"If we're going to put muscle into it, we put it in with money," Roche added. "Sitting around protesting I don't think accomplishes the purpose unless we're willing to spend a lot of money to try to stop them legally, because that's our only recourse."
But Roche emphasized that the first priority is to determine Tennessee Gas Co.'s parent company Kinder Morgan's intended route for the new pipeline.
"I'd be in favor of fighting this thing tooth and nail," he said, "and I'd lead the charge when we know where it's going to go."
Noting Patrick's support of alternative energy sources as "a green governor," Selectman Kenneth Fowler emphasized the need to learn the governor's position since the pipeline "goes against the things he's been proposing for some time." Noting his own opposition to the pipeline, Fowler supported the gas company's survey in order to confirm the intended route.
"I need to know where the fight is before I show up for it," he said.
Selectman Edward Lane called the survey "inevitable."
"Once we have that, we have the power to take our resources, team up with surrounding towns and fight it the best we can," he said.
At the annual town meeting on May 1, voters approved by a 132-53 vote a non-binding citizens petition to oppose the pipeline being sought by Kinder Morgan.
"That clearly shows the people are against it," said Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson, adding that the issue of "fracked" gas is not the board's concern.
"I don't see us fighting fights that don't have to do with the specific threat to the town, its finances and its citizens -- not that fracking might not be harmful to a lot of people," he said.
"The legal right to survey is likely to trump any effort to fight it," Gibson added. "I'd like to see us keep our powder dry and really go after the big fight, which is to oppose the pipeline."
He urged that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Edward Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats, as well as U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, become involved in the fight "because this is a federal issue."
Kinder Morgan has indicated that it plans to seek a construction permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October. If approved, construction could begin in April 2017 with completion by November 2018. The company has estimated the cost of the 250-mile pipeline extension from upstate New York to Dracut, north of Lowell, at $2.75 billion to $3.75 billion.
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