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Photo Gallery | Tennessee Gas pipeline protest march begins in Richmond

RICHMOND -- After the music stopped, the speakers finished and the food was consumed on Sunday afternoon, it was time to move.

About 150 walkers stepped off from the Hilltop Orchards on Route 295 near the Richmond-New York state border. They represented the inaugural leg of the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk.

The event is organized in opposition to the proposed Northeast Pipeline Extension Project, a planned expansion by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. A 36-inch, high-pressure gas pipeline is proposed to run through the Northern tier of the state.

The Richmond crew was the first of several teams that will trace approximately the route of the proposed pipeline, town to town, until they reach the town of Dracut, located north of the city of Lowell.

Jane Winn, the executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT, explained that the proposed pipeline will go through some of the more environmentally sensitive areas in the state.

The fear, she said, was the fragmentation of wildlife habitat areas, spreading invasive species and removing state land that has been previously listed as protected from that legal safeguard. The latter action, said Winn, is a violation of the state constitution.

There were, perhaps understandably, no proponents of the pipeline project at Sunday's event. But according to www.kindermorgan.com, the $3.75 billion project will provide more clean-burning domestic natural gas to key Northeast markets. Kinder Morgan is the fourth-largest energy company in North America and oversees the pipeline project.

In rebuttal, several local activists pointed out that a considerable percentage of the natural gas will go to foreign markets, although an actual list of customers has not yet been released. In addition, opponents say, the potential for leaks, ruptures or explosion is a concern.

It will be at least partially paid for by new fees to local ratepayers.

Organizers on Sunday oversaw a two-hour rally that featured music, speakers and refreshments.

"What is this about?" asked activist Rachel Branch of North Adams rhetorically. "It's about saving the planet. It's as simple as that. It's about the air, the water and the earth. And it's about every day people having a say in what happens to them."

Bob Connor, a Canaan, N.Y., resident, was helping the organizers Sunday. Connor is an opponent of the pipeline project in New York and has a website, www.stopnyfrackedgaspipeline.org.

"I have to say, the Massachusetts opposition is much better organized than it is in New York," he said. "We're just starting to wake up to this."

The walk through Richmond is a total of 5.5 miles, according to organizer Melanie Masden. She said she expected the walk, which began about 1 p.m., to be completed by about 4:30 p.m. at Bartlett's Orchard on Route 41.

Today, the walk will continue to Pittsfield. The entire route is expected to be completed by July 26 in Dracut. On July 30, said Winn, many of the marchers will convene at the Boston Common to present a petition to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to withdraw his support for both the pipeline and the new fees to cover the cost of it.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile