LENOX -- Town Hall is heating up its fight against a proposed gas pipeline that could affect the community's watershed on Lenox Mountain, as well as Kennedy Park, Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and numerous private properties, including Eastover Resort.
With the official blessing of the Select Board this week, a strongly worded letter by Chairman Channing Gibson has been sent to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, emphasizing the town government's unanimous opposition to the pipeline. The letter was copied to Gov. Deval Patrick.
"In addition to our general opposition," the document states, "we have an immediate concern about the potential impact on the public water supply." With the help of the two lawmakers, the town is seeking an extensive review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"We are especially concerned about the environmental impact on the town water supply's watershed as a potential location for the proposed pipeline," the letter continues. "We are additionally concerned that the construction phase may have detrimental effects on water quality and are extremely concerned that potential future failure of the pipeline will have truly disastrous consequences."
The document was drafted by Selectman Warren Archey and revised by Town Manager Christopher Ketchen following a unanimous Select Board vote on June 25 to oppose the pipeline.
The Tennessee Gas Co. has proposed installing a 250 miles of high-pressure, 36-inch pipeline from upstate New York into Berkshire County and across northern Massachusetts to the town of Dracut, north of Lowell. Maps of the pipeline circulated by Tennessee Gas's parent company, Kinder Morgan, depict a route through portions of Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor.
At Wednesday's Select Board meeting, Archey voiced hope that a formal DEP Environmental Impact Review would be conducted, "which would also be useful to the governor, who has a larger issue than just us."
On June 30, Patrick wrote to anti-pipeline organizer Russell Schott, of Pepperell, pointing out that his administration has not taken a position on the pipeline proposal and will not until federal regulators have their say. But he stated that he has called on the regulators "to assure that the process is robust and that all those interested have a chance to engage."
Patrick also promised detailed environmental reviews by the state based on information about the potential pipeline routes.
Ketchen plans to meet with the Berkshire Regional Plan-
ning Commission next week to further explore the issue, and he expressed a "desire to receive as much independent fact-based information as we possibly can, and get that information into the hands of our residents and U.S. policymakers as well." He called the letter to Pignatelli and Downing "a good next step."
"Obviously, Kinder Morgan in its permitting process is going to have to have an environmental study done," said Gibson. "The goal of this letter is to get our own study done, using the resources of the DEP so we have an independent review. That's the real key here, not just relying on their analysis down the road, but to have this in our pocket."
A joint statement is in the works by state representatives and senators representing all 40 communities from Rich-
mond to Dracut that are on the reported path of the pipeline, according to Gibson. He said he has been informed by Downing and Pignatelli that the document may be ready by the end of this month.
"Hopefully, everybody will be on board with the statement," said Gibson. "If not, they're going to go with the majority."
Gibson said that while the details are not yet available, "I hope it's going to be protecting us."
In September, Kinder Morgan is expected to pre-file its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval of the pipeline, Gibson reported. "That's what we're trying to get ahead of," he commented.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey are aware of the pipeline issue, Gibson noted. "This statement will galvanize them quite a bit," he predicted, adding that Downing and Pignatelli believe it's crucial to get federal lawmakers engaged on the region's pipeline concerns.
Text of Lenox letter ...
Dear Representative Pignatelli and Senator Downing:
The purpose of this letter is to convey the Lenox Board of Selectmen's unanimous opposition to the proposed Tennessee Natural Gas/Kinder Morgan pipeline. At our meeting on June 25, 2014, the Board voted 5-0 to oppose the pipeline through our Town. In addition to our general opposition, we have an immediate concern about the potential impact on the public water supply. Therefore, we are requesting an analysis from the Massachusetts Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) on this matter.
Regarding the intended siting and usage of a new 36" high pressure natural gas pipeline, and the accompanying right-of-way, through the watershed of the Town's reservoir, we ask that both of you advocate for an extensive environmental impact study from DEP. We are especially concerned about the environmental impact on the Town water supply's watershed as a potential location for the proposed pipeline. We are additionally concerned that the construction phase may have detrimental effects on water quality and are extremely concerned that potential future failure of the pipeline will have truly disastrous consequences.
Finally, we understand that the intended route of the pipeline will pass through other Berkshire County public water supply watersheds and beyond. We suggest that such a study be offered to these communities as well.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter and for your continued service on behalf of our citizens.
cc: His Excellency Deval Patrick, Governor