DUNSTABLE -- Groups of legislators in north-central Massachusetts are showing an interest in encouraging Kinder Morgan to run its proposed natural-gas pipeline along state highways rather than through rural neighborhoods.
And the energy-transportation giant appears to be getting serious about exploring the option, now that it knows the Legislature may pressure the state Department of Transportation to make it happen, according to state Rep. Sheila Harrington, R-Groton.
"They are looking into it," Harrington said of Kinder Morgan on Thursday night as more than 100 people listened to the pipeline project at Dunstable Town Hall during an information session. Dunstable is located just west of Route 495 on the state’s border with New Hampshire.
"We looked at the map [of state highways] and thought there was a lot of possibility," she said.
Kinder Morgan has indicated that it plans to seek a pipeline construction permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commis sion 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. Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Co.’ documents indicate the high-pressure, 36-inch line would pass through portions of Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor.
The Dunstable information session was the first of its kind held in that town. During the meeting, Harrington said she met with Kinder Morgan representatives on Tuesday and asked if they would look more closely at state-owned rights of way as a potential pipeline route.
"They said those rights of way are generally difficult to get from the state and that, when they propose, the state generally doesn’t like to give it to them," Harrington said of Kinder Morgan representatives. "So I said, ‘what about if a whole bunch of legislators came down on the Department of Transportation and said we want you to give them access over our existing rights of way to the extent that is possible?’ "
Kinder Morgan representatives showed a keen interest in her proposal and contacted her the next day to ask how other lawmakers reacted to her idea at the Legislative Caucus earlier in the day, Harrington said. She added that many legislators expressed their enthusiasm for her proposal.
Asked about the option Harrington presented in Dunstable, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said on Friday that he remains "torn between encouraging Kinder Morgan to find an alternate route or taking a stand against the pipeline itself."
He pointed out that to use a state right-of-way, the Massachusetts constitution requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature. "Right now, there’s no kind of support for that," said Pignatelli.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has proposed considering the MassPike corridor for the new pipeline, Pignatelli said. But that would also require state as well as federal approvals because the turnpike gets some funding from Washington.
Pignatelli also questioned whether state lawmakers would have any role to play, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) controls approval of permits for pipeline construction.
"We’re not getting a good feeling on many fronts," Pignatelli told The Eagle from his district office in Lenox. "So far, the Legislature has more questions than answers. We’re desperately seeking information from Kinder Morgan, FERC and the state Department of Public Utilities."
"Our frustrations with Kinder Morgan are growing," he said, "and the natives are getting restless."
State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, was unavailable for comment.
Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has control over the pipeline project, Harrington said she is also working with Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.
"She thought there are a lot of opportunities to put brakes" on the pipeline project to help sort things out, Harrington said of Tsongas.
The Berkshire Eagle’s Clarence Fanto contributed to this report.