LENOX -- In a reversal of their previous decision two weeks ago, the Selectmen have voted unanimously to allow surveyors for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to map a proposed route on a portion of a town-owned land in Kennedy Park.
The turnabout on Wednesday night came on the recommendation of Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, who told board members that the company had agreed to his request for a more detailed map depicting a revised survey route for the high-pressure gas pipeline through northeastern Lenox into the town of Washington and October Mountain State Forest.
Ketchen suggested approval "as a matter of good faith," now that the map has been supplied. Last March, the Selectmen voted to allow the survey through any town-owned land, including the watershed.
Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas, is expected to file a preliminary application with federal regulators in several weeks for the new 250-mile pipeline, including loops and offshoots. It would begin in Wright, N.Y., west of Schenectady, enter the Berkshires in Richmond and follow a proposed route through eight Berkshire communities, ending in Dracut, north of Lowell.
That pipeline would cost the company close to $4 billion, plus another $2 billion for a route supplying the fracked natural gas from the Marcellus shale area in southwestern New York and nearby Appalachian Mountain regions. If the project wins formal approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2016, the pipeline could go into service by spring of 2018, according to company officials.
The board members emphasized that the vote to allow the survey was not an endorsement of the pipeline project.
"We do have to keep a cordial relationship with Kinder Morgan," said Selectman Edward Lane, "in case there may be negotiations later on. We have to keep a decent working relationship but we're in no way wanting the pipeline."
Selectman David Roche, who had taken a strong stand against the company at the board's Aug. 6 meeting, said he stands by it but pointed out that "the more information we have, the better organized we can become to take a position. When we have the absolute specifics, then we can make specific recommendations. I don't think anyone here wants that pipeline in our watershed."
Roche also suggested consulting with the town's attorneys. "We can strap ourselves to trees, though I'm not volunteering to do that, but I'd like to know what our legal rights are before we try to mount our legal defense and start spending money." Ketchen agreed that it's critical for the town to establish itself formally as an "intervenor" in the pipeline controversy.
"Emotionally, I'd love to stand by Dave's comment two weeks ago," said Select Board Chairman Channing Gibson. Roche had suggested telling the company "to go to hell."
"As a practical matter, the more information we have, the better our decisions are," Gibson asserted. "The fight is yet to come, in my opinion. It's not a surprise that they've chosen the most direct route, it just happens to be about as offensive to the town as it could be. I don't think any of us are lacking outrage, or concern about that."
"The Environmental Impact Reviews we've requested through our state senator and rep could make a big difference on our positions," Selectman Warren Archey emphasized. Ketchen responded that he had not been informed of any decision on the reviews by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
"At some point, we're going to have to start pushing back on Kinder Morgan, there's no doubt about it," Selectman Kenneth Fowler declared. "They have definitely proposed coming through our watershed. At some point, we're going to have to take the bull by the horns and say we don't want it through there."
Gibson emphasized that the vote to allow the survey "is not approval for the pipeline or for a route, this is a very preliminary step for surveying a parcel of land along Route 7 north of the Arcadian Shop that was not part of the original application for the survey."
Kinder Morgan's current route proposal would take the pipeline across Routes 7 and 20 just north of the Arcadian Shop, continuing through residential areas, crossing East Street, Roaring Brook Road and the Housatonic River. The pipeline would then pass through portions of Washington, Pittsfield, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto