Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Old-growth forest may be imperiled

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In 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation spent $5.2 million to purchase the 900-acre Spectacle Pond Farm located between the Otis State Forest to the north and the Clam River watershed to the south in Sandisfield.

It contains pristine old-growth forest, including Eastern hemlock trees that predate the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth. The land also includes Lower Spectacle Pond, a 62-acre lake that is one of only two large lakes in the Berkshires with an undeveloped and unprotected shoreline.

The DCR had identified the property as one of the most significant land protection purchases in the state. The land is included in the state's BioMap and Living Waters plans as being of statewide ecological significance. Article 97, an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, shields such state-designated land from development.

Kinder Morgan's Tennessee Gas Co. wants to install a four-mile pipeline loop that cuts through that state-protected land in Sandisfield. They want to take some of this land by eminent domain. FERC (Federal Energy Regulating Commission) approved the plans. To date, our state legislators have not approved the easements for the Sandisfield loop.

Kinder Morgan then sought an injunction to allow the immediate tree-cutting in the Sandisfield section and has named the DCR and its commissioner Leo P. Roy among the defendants. That, in turn, has prompted state Attorney General Maura Healey's office to get involved and represent the state and the DCR.

"Our state Constitution protects conservation land across Massachusetts including Otis State Forest," Healey said in a statement to The Berkshire Eagle. The tree-cutting permit has since been denied or at least delayed by FERC.

Last week, a Berkshire Superior Court ruled in favor of an Attorney General's Office motion and instituted a two-week delay against Kinder Morgan's injunction to start cutting trees immediately.

In a joint statement, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state representatives William "Smitty" Pignatelli, Stephen Kulik, Gailanne M. Cariddi and Paul W. Mark opposed the project " for environmental, economic, public safety and public health reasons."

The joint statement went on to say, "While it is clear the ultimate power in permitting and approving the project rests with the federal government, in the FERC, it is our responsibility as state legislators to speak for our communities. As such, we have come to the conclusion that while building the Northeast Direct Gas Pipeline would provide the economic benefit of providing good jobs with good wages for local labor, the project as a whole is not in the public interest. We can and should do better."

Pignatelli carried it a step further and contacted Healey's office as well as Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal seeking intervention to block the pipeline loop. Kudos to our legislators for their action.

Perhaps that action was partly prompted by the words of late U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte wherein he once stated in an oft-quoted speech: "Ducks can't vote, trees can't vote; neither can salmon, flowers, mountains or rivers. It is incumbent upon us to take on this weighty responsibility to serve them as our greatest constituency."

Kudos also to the Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline (STOP) for filing a notice of intent to sue FERC for failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and Article 97 which would have helped to protect those resources.

So where does Gov. Charlie Baker stand on this issue? Surely there are local hunters, fishermen and conservationists who are concerned that he has not weighed in to protect this "greatest constituency." Perhaps it is time they make their feelings known on this issue.

The Massachusetts/Rhode Island Council of Trout Unlimited already has. In a recent message from Chairman John Troiano to its 3,000 statewide members, he wrote: "These events set a precedent for the Northeast Energy Direct Project (NED), a pipeline project that directly affects cold-water habitat, and TU is already involved as an intervener. NED would impact numerous watersheds in Massachusetts, comprising several thousand acres. This will affect numerous privately conserved lands where landowners have transferred rights to the general public, with the help of land trusts, through the use of a Conservation Restriction (CR) or Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR). If FERC is able to successfully assert its federal preemptive power over Article 97, no conserved land, either public or private, would be safe from development."

He urged members to contact DCR Commissioner Leo Roy as soon as possible. Also, write Gov. Baker, Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton, your state representatives and Congressional delegation, and ask them to fight for Article 97 and the Commonwealth's authority to protect conservation land

A Berkshire Eagle letter to the editor by Jennifer Ryan, the director for policy for the Trustees of Reservations, says it all. In that March 25 letter "Land is not protected to provide for pipelines," she wrote, "Public parkland wasn't set aside as the cheapest route for private infrastructure projects. Pipelines can be moved, old-growth forests and pristine ponds cannot."

Trout stockings

The following waters were scheduled to be stocked with trout the weeks of March 21 and March 28: Deerfield River in Buckland, Charlemont and Florida; Hoosic River in Clarksburg, Adams and Cheshire; Green River in Alford, Egremont and Great Barrington; Westfield River in Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Huntington, Russell, Middlefield, Savoy, Windsor and Worthington; Williams River in West Stockbridge and Great Barrington; Konkapot River in Monterey and New Marlborough; Housatonic River in Hinsdale, Dalton, Pittsfield (SW), Lee (C&R) and Stockbridge (C&R); and Ashfield Pond, Lake Buel, Lake Garfield, Windsor Lake, Onota Lake, Plunkett Lake, North Pond, Littleville Lake, Goose Pond and Stockbridge Bowl.

Children's fishing derby

The Berkshire Hatchery Foundation in Hartsville-New Marlborough is having its first free children's fishing derby of the year next Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at its lower pond. Children aged 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Monthly derbies will be conducted, but they need some volunteer help run them.

Direct questions and comments to berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone/fax: (413) 637-1818.


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