Kinder Morgan 'seriously' weighing new pipeline route in Berkshires

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The company proposing to build a gas pipeline through Berkshire County is "seriously considering" an alternative route that would spare Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Pittsfield, Dalton and Hinsdale.

An official of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners on Monday said the company is looking at a new path, known as the New York Powerline Alternative, which would enter the county in Hancock from Stephentown, N.Y.

The pipeline would follow an existing utility corridor through Hancock, Lanesborough, a slice of southern Cheshire, into Windsor before rejoining the previously outlined main route in Peru to points east and north.

"We are seriously considering the New York Powerline Alternative as part of our preferred route," stated Allen Fore, vice president for public affairs for Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., in a message to The Eagle on Monday.

Word of a possible shift in the proposed route of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline follows the announcement this past weekend of another significant change affecting 18 communities in northern Massachusetts between Northfield and the 250-mile pipeline terminal in Dracut.

That shift, which the company has formally identified as its new preferred route, would take the pipeline into southern New Hampshire, where it also could travel along an existing right of way.

In Berkshire County, the project has faced opposition from citizens groups and some town governments — notably Richmond, Lenox and Dalton — amid concerns about safety and the potential impact on the environment.

According to Kinder Morgan's most recent filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, "the advantages of this alternative route include co-location with an existing utility corridor, and the avoidance of the congested populated areas of Pittsfield and Dalton. However, in Massachusetts, the alternative route would traverse state-owned lands."

On the plus side, the company states that "the co-location of the pipeline with the powerline corridor in these areas would lessen the environmental impacts and avoid habitat fragmentation."

The Berkshire route revision may be included in an upcoming FERC filing.

In the face of fierce community and political opposition, Kinder Morgan has outlined a new preferred route across a rural swath of northern Massachusetts.

By redirecting the pipeline into southern New Hampshire, the revision spares towns in north-central Massachusetts where opposition by residents, town leaders, state and federal lawmakers has been especially strong.

Under this plan, the 36-inch, high-pressure gas pipeline would exit the Bay State in Northfield, crossing 17 New Hampshire towns in three counties before re-entering Massachusetts near its terminal in Dracut, north of Lowell.

Among the 18 towns no longer on the route are Warwick, Orange, Athol, Pepperell, Groton and Ashburnham.

A new "preferred option" will be filed with federal regulators in early December, according to Fore of Kinder Morgan. He unveiled the revision in an interview published Sunday by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

"Early analysis from the available data and aerial surveillance is this looks like a very viable and preferable primary route for us," Fore stated. "That's why we are moving toward a formal reference to this plan when we amend our report." The updated "Resource Report 10" is expected to be filed with FERC on or about Dec. 8.

The advantage of the new pipeline route is that 72 of its 80 miles would be built along the existing Public Service of New Hampshire right-of-way, so Kinder Morgan would only need to acquire the remaining mileage from landowners.

"What our planned filing in December will do is identify the New Hampshire route as our primary route and allow us to begin to zero in on this route, examine the terrain associated with it and open dialogues with the communities along it," Fore said.

Whatever the final route, the entire project, costing nearly $3 billion along its 250-mile pathway from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, requires a decision by federal regulators, not expected until November 2016.

If FERC approves, construction could begin in spring of 2017 with the pipeline going into service in late 2018. The entire project cost, including a supply line from the shale fields of southwest Pennsylvania to upstate New York, could approach $6 billion, according to Kinder Morgan.

In his interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Fore stated: "We are in the process of starting a dialogue with the towns, meeting with government officials and some of the appropriate resource agencies. No permits have been filed for, no formal discussions with the state have been held. Those will come."

Contact Clarence Fanto at (413) 637-2551.


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