PEPPERELL -- Carrying a big, colorful sign that read, "No pipeline. Not In My Back Yard," on her back on Tuesday, Kristin Yargeau paddled into the Nashua River.

This is the river the school speech therapist would normally come to kayak and watch swans and herons for peace of mind. But the Pepperell resident of 22 years is now worried that the 129-mile natural-gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners may ultimately be dug beneath the riverbed as part of its path in Massachusetts. And that would destroy the beautiful landscapes, Yargeau said.

"I don't want my town to die," Yargeau said.

Vince and Denene Premus can relate. Just a couple hundred feet away from their circa-1730 saltbox house on Elm Street, yellow tape marking the potential pipeline route appeared one day. Their teenage daughter asked them how a gas-transportation company could be allowed to run such infrastructure a stone's throw from her bedroom window and conservation land across the street.

"I have to answer to my children," said Denene Premus, who walked miles in protest of Kinder's Tennessee Gas Pipeline project on Tuesday before joining others to cheer on the kayaking protesters. "It's an all-around bad, ill-conceived project."

More than two weeks after the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk began in Richmond, local residents took to the Nashua River and conservation land to continue the protest.


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The morning walk that began at North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend drew more than 70 people, who trekked near the proposed route, including 140 acres of farmland and forest called Keyes Property. About two dozen people then gathered off Canal Street to continue the "walk" across the Nashua River in kayaks and canoes.

Joining them for the river-crossing was Marion Stoddart, a legendary environmentalist from Groton known for leading the Nashua River cleanup project in the 1960s.

"THE POWER LIES IN NUMBERS": Famed Groton environmentalist Marion Stoddart, founder of the Nashua River Watershed Association, joins the protest
"THE POWER LIES IN NUMBERS": Famed Groton environmentalist Marion Stoddart, founder of the Nashua River Watershed Association, joins the protest against the proposed natural-gas pipeline in Pepperell Tuesday. She carries a pipe section covered with opponents' signatures. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

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Those who know Stoddart say she tirelessly rallied support for the river cleanup initiative among residents and lawmakers, helping to pass the Massachusetts Clean Water Act in 1966. Her efforts also spawned the Nashua River Watershed Association.

Kayaking through the river that was once filled with copper-red toxic discharge from factories, Stoddart said it's most important to get the public involved in decision-making for any projects that affect a large number of residents -- something that many have complained is lacking so far in the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project. The river was once labeled Class U, which means "unfit for transport of waste," Stoddart said.

The industries first said the river only needed to smell and look OK.

Pipeline opponents cross the Nashua River in Pepperell Tuesday, part of the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk. The pipeline is proposed to go under
Pipeline opponents cross the Nashua River in Pepperell Tuesday, part of the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk. The pipeline is proposed to go under the riverbed, from Canal Street in Pepperell to Groton on the far side. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
But as more public hearings were held and many voters began demanding better cleanup, elected officials joined the chorus, Stoddart said.

"The power lies in numbers," Stoddart said.

And that's the goal of the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk, said Russ Schott, of Pepperell, an organizer for the cross-state walk. Some time ago, pipeline opponents who live in the western part of the state wanted a walk, and their counterparts from the eastern part wished to do something to "make a big splash" to draw media attention to the issue, Schott said. They quickly recruited organizers town by town to make the statewide walk happen.

Jeanne Nevard, a Pepperell resident and member of the Nashoba Conservation Trust, said the large number of people who participated in the walk doesn't surprise her.

Kristin Yargeau of Pepperell, wearing a sign in protest of the natural-gas pipeline, pulls her canoe ashore after paddling in the Nashua River with other
Kristin Yargeau of Pepperell, wearing a sign in protest of the natural-gas pipeline, pulls her canoe ashore after paddling in the Nashua River with other protesters in Pepperell Tuesday. The pipeline would run under the riverbed and go through woods behind her home. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
In Pepperell, which spent $1.5 million to buy the 265-acre Pepperell Springs property for open space and teamed up with The Trust for Public Land to preserve the Keyes Property, residents care about the environment, Nevard said. And they feel united more than ever in their fight against the pipeline, she said.

"It's the feeling of solidarity," Nevard said.

Many of those who took part in Tuesday's event do not believe the pipeline would entirely benefit Massachusetts residents because the transmission capacity would exceed the demand for gas. They say the company will likely export excess gas for profit.

"If there is the slightest shred of doubt, then you shouldn't be doing it," Vince Premus said.

Denene and Vince Premus, who have helped spearhead the local coalition against the project, say the pipeline would cross by their property on Elm Street in
Denene and Vince Premus, who have helped spearhead the local coalition against the project, say the pipeline would cross by their property on Elm Street in Pepperell. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
 

Premus also said he is particularly concerned about the possibility of the company obtaining easements from private property owners through eminent domain.

Many of the protesters said they do not want to let the private corporation profit off their land.

Tasha Van Es, a neighbor of Yargeau from Boynton Street, said she is also concerned how any potential leakage from the gas pipeline might affect her farm animals. The computer-industry consultant said she is a mother of 3- and 4-year-olds. Van Es, Denene Premus and Nevard all said they feel obligated to protect the environment for future generations.

"It has to be on our watch," Nevard said of the project.

The walk will continue today in Groton and Dunstable.

Follow HIroko Sato on Tout and Twitter at satolowellsun.