LENOX -- Angry, frustrated town leaders are pushing back firmly against a proposed change in the route of the new Tennessee Gas pipeline through Massachusetts that would take it along a primary Kennedy Park trail, exiting just north of the Arcadian Shop, a popular outdoor sports emporium on Routes 7 and 20.
Upon his recommendation, the Select Board instructed Town Manager Christopher Ketchen to deny permission to the company for surveying work inside that portion of the town-owned park.
"Tell them to go to hell," urged Selectman David Roche. "I stand by my original comment," he emphasized later in Wednesday night's meeting.
"The guy was just unbelievably vague about everything; it was just amazing," added Selectman Edward Lane, referring to a pipeline official who met with town officials recently. "He wasn't going to give us any information. We asked questions, he gave us general information, but it wasn't anything we didn't know. We have an idea where it's going to go, but why shouldn't they tell us? If they have a plan A, B or C, just tell us."
Ketchen said a detailed map of the preferred pipeline route taking it along an existing AT&T transcontinental utility corridor through the town's watershed was no surprise.
But he indicated that he was taken aback by new information from Kinder Morgan, the Tennessee Gas parent company, showing the route departing from the utility right-of-way and following the park's heavily used Woolsey trail that ends at the Arcadian Shop parking area.
"It's a departure from what we had anticipated previously," the town manager stated.
In an Eagle interview, Kennedy Park Commission Chairman Robert Coakley said he understands that "as a federal project, all we can do is protest against it. I can speak for our board in hoping that it can be prevented from going through our beautiful park. Passive recreation is the joy of people in the park. That would be terribly disruptive and a blight, so we're hoping against hope that it will not happen."
"We're certainly concerned," Arcadian Shop owner Larry Lane told The Eagle on Thursday. "We're working with the town, and the pipeline representatives will be meeting with me in September."
"I would encourage any resident contacted by the survey company for Tennessee Gas and Kinder Morgan to please let us know," said Ketchen. He complained that the map provided by the pipeline company fails to disclose the preferred route across the rest of the town, east of Routes 7 and 20.
"We don't know where it would cross East Street, Roaring Brook or the Housatonic River and the properties in between," he said. Ketchen said his efforts to obtain that information from Kinder Morgan have been fruitless.
"At this point, I would recommend you withhold granting permission for the survey on that [Kennedy Park] parcel until we receive the information we've asked for," he told the board.
Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson said that Kinder Morgan had not included that portion of the park in its original survey request, which had been approved by the board last February.
"The really frustrating thing is the inability to get answers," said Gibson. "It's not in Tennessee Gas's or Kinder Morgan's interest to give anybody answers at this point; they hold so many cards."
"I'd like to see us fight back against that," he added.
Roche said that preliminary route guidelines indicate the pipeline "is going to disturb our watershed." It's also expected to pass very close to Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Ketchen said. Mass Audubon has barred surveyors from mapping the sanctuary and other land it owns east of Berkshire County.
Gibson also cited reports that Kinder Morgan "has decided not to worry about some of the survey process. They're going to go straight to FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] in the pre-filing process. They're going to put their line down on a map and say here's where we want to go as opposed to taking everybody to court."
The 250-mile pipeline expansion through western and northern Massachusetts, including loops, would extend from Wright, N.Y., 30 miles west of Schenectady, to Dracut, north of Lowell. Kinder Morgan plans to pre-file an application with FERC next month.
The entire project, including the "supply path" from Marcellus, N.Y., to Wright, and the new "market path" could cost up to $6 billion, Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley has told The Eagle. If it wins final approval from federal regulators by late 2016, the new pipeline could go into service in April 2018.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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