Lenox weighs $20K membership in nonprofit to challenge pipeline route
LENOX >> To mount a more effective challenge of the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. route through the town's watershed, town leaders may join a new coalition led by environmental activist Eleanor Tillinghast of Green Berkshires, a Great Barrington-based nonprofit.
Subject to Select Board approval, the result would complement town efforts to ramp up state protection of the reservoirs and surrounding land under a provision of the state constitution. During the board's regular meeting last week, Tillinghast described the benefits to the town through a strength-in-numbers legal strategy.
The town would pay $20,000 to join NE Energy Solutions, the recently created nonprofit coalition, Tillinghast said.
The original four coalition members have contributed $20,000 each, she said, while four newer members, smaller groups such as the Richmond Land Trust, have donated less. Her own organization, Green Berkshires, has put in over $50,000 "to lay the groundwork for what we think will be a successful approach," she added.
Lenox was targeted as the only community asked to join, Tillinghast said, "because you have something that none of the other groups has — the watershed. It's a very significant property that would resonate with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" (FERC). The commission is expected to make the final go or no-go decision on the pipeline by fall of 2016.
"What we offer you is an attorney we think is exceptional," she told the Select Board, "and a broad-based group that can share the cost — it's difficult to mount this kind of an appeal. We can also share expertise, so we think it's a relationship that would benefit you and benefit us, and the cost is reasonable. We think we can offer you something that would be difficult to find elsewhere."
However, she cautioned, "we expect that the cost will go up and my guess is that we would see another $20,000 per group." All members who contribute financially have an equal vote, and major decisions require unanimous approval. Any spending by the coalition also depends on a unanimous vote.
The coalition's priorities are to challenge the pipeline itself, but if that's not successful, Tillinghast asserted, plan B would be to move the route or if all else fails, litigation.
The route of the pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas, and the need for a new natural gas supply have been challenged by citizens groups and some town governments in the Berkshires — notably Richmond, Lenox, Pittsfield and Dalton — and by many others among the 45 communities that would be affected in western and northern Massachusetts. The line would terminate in Dracut, north of Lowell near the New Hampshire state line.
"We decided that a very successful grass-roots movement has been going on in Berkshire County throughout the area that would be affected," Tillinghast said. But the new coalition differs from other environmental groups focused on issues such as "fracked" gas, the need for more natural gas, and the possibility that the new supply might be exported overseas from the coast of Maine or Atlantic Canada.
Instead, Tillinghast's group is pursuing a legal approach in advance of eventual rulings by federal regulators. NE Energy Solutions has hired attorney Vincent DeVito, an energy-law specialist and partner at the Boston firm Bowditch & Dewey.
DeVito has worked at the state Department of Public Utilities, as well as advising the state Legislature on energy issues. He was an assistant Energy Secretary during the George W. Bush administration and has also represented state and federal agencies in cases that came before FERC.
"He has a lot of experience with FERC and a lot of personal relationships with people in the federal government," Tillinghast said. "Not all pipelines go through, about half of them die off for various reasons. We're not saying that this one will, but FERC does look at a number of factors we're not being 'mission impossible' here."
Meeting with coalition members, she added, "he came up with an approach that we thought was original and one that environmental groups don't typically take. We were very impressed with his strategy."
"As you know, it's hard to stop pipelines," Tillinghast said. "That's not necessarily our goal, but we are hoping that with the information we'll provide to FERC, they will look very seriously whether this particular pipeline is needed, given the other pipelines that are being proposed, and the capacity that's in the region."
The Select Board has discussed the proposal behind closed doors because it involves potential legal action by the town, Chairman Channing Gibson said. "We decided it was important to bring the discussion into the open," he said.
Before the anticipated vote at a Nov. 26 meeting, Gibson noted, the board would meet with town counsel in another executive session.
Members of NE Energy Solutions:
The following are participants in the newly formed multi-jurisdictional coalition formed recently by Green Berkshires to challenge the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline:
• Berkshire Natural Resources Council
• East Quabbin Land Trust
• Franklin Land Trust
• Green Berkshires
• Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition (with 130 member groups)
• Nashua River Watershed Association
• Richmond Land Trust
• The Trustees of Reservations
• Town of Lenox (proposed; decision due Nov. 26)
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