Letter: Conservation land, state policy at stake in Sandisfield
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
Last Monday, in the comfortable confines of The Berkshire Eagle office, Gov. Deval Patrick stated that there needed to be patience with the Tennessee Gas pipeline expansion project, that the permitting process was in the early stages, and that in a practical sense "neither state or local governments will have a lot to say" about the pipeline route and permit, that most of these decisions will be made at the federal level.
On Tuesday, Sandisfield officials, concerned residents, two members of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, two Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs members, and officials from Kinder Morgan walked the Tennessee Gas pipeline on the state-owned DCR lands of Spectacle Pond and Otis State Forest in preparation for the proposed expansion project that is slated to be operational by the fall of 2016. In regards to the Richmond phase of this project, Gov. Patrick's analysis is probably correct. Unfortunately for the residents of Sandisfield, Tyringham and Agawam the first phase of this private venture will play itself out in the chambers of the Statehouse this fall. The decisions reached by our state Legislature will have major long-term consequences in regards to conservation in Massachusetts.
In 2007, the state purchased 900 acres around Spectacle Pond in order to preserve this bucolic area for future generations to enjoy. At the time of purchase, Gov. Patrick declared "The state's purchase of this spectacular property ensures its lasting protection and is an example of our prudent investment in the commonwealth's rare and irreplaceable natural resources."
When the state purchased this land it inherited two 24-inch gas lines that were constructed in 1952 and 1981 respectively. Under the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline project not only will a 36-inch pipe be constructed through this conservation land, but also one million gallons of water will be drained from Spectacle Pond in order to test the pipe. Half of the proposed project will be conducted on state land affecting approximately 30 acres in a sensitive environmental area.
For this project to move forward the state Legislature will have to pass an act allowing Kinder Morgan access to this conservation land. Gov. Patrick played a vital role in conserving this land in 2007; he now has the opportunity to use his political influence in order to truly protect it. Allowing a commercial industry the ability to put through a 36-inch gas pipeline and pump out a million gallons of water from a "protected" pond is not conservation.
If this project is allowed to go through the state would be setting precedent in which conservation land in Massachusetts really isn't conserved. Does this mean that fracking or the drilling for oil can take place in the area surrounding Quabbin Reservoir?
Residents in Sandisfield supported the Spectacle Pond purchase even though it has meant that our tax burden is greater due to the fact that state pays a reduced rate on its properties. In the name of conservation it is my hope that state officials, including Gov. Patrick, will step forward to preserve the health, and beauty of our state and town. If this does not occur, then moving forward it would be my expectation that the state will be paying full taxes on the Spectacle Pond property as well as writing a check to the town of Sandisfield for back taxes owed since 2007.
The state cannot have it both ways. Either this "spectacular property" is conserved or it should be taxed at a regular rate.
The writer is chairman of the Sandisfield Board of Selectmen.