Mass Audubon denying surveyors access to Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary


Photo Gallery | Pleasant Valley Sanctuary

As opposition heats up to a potential Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. expansion project, Mass Audubon is refusing to allow company agents to survey its 1,300 acres at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox and two of its other properties in the state.

Mass Audubon President Henry Tepper rejected a request by the company's regional land agent, James F. Blaise Jr., to survey the boundaries, physical features, archaeological resources, wetlands and streams, and rare, threatened or endangered species at Pleasant Valley.

The denial letter also applies to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield, Hampshire County, and Cheshire Pond Wild life Sanctuary in Ashburnham, Worcester County.

Preliminary maps released by Kinder Morgan Inc., the Houston-based parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, indicate the high-pressure line would pass through portions of Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor. It's part of the 250-mile Northeast Pipeline Expansion Project extending from upstate New York to Dracut, north of Lowell.

In a separate letter, Mass Audubon urged Gov. Deval Patrick to reconsider his support of any new major natural gas imports or interstate pipeline. Instead, Tepper urged him to instruct state agencies to set a public planning agenda.

"We respectfully object to the manner in which the commonwealth is proceeding, in cooperation with energy companies, to undertake new long-term natural gas import commitments to the state and the region," Tepper wrote, singling out the proposed Tennessee Gas pipeline.

In a phone interview from his Lincoln headquarters, Tepper said there has been no response yet from Gov. Patrick or the state agency leaders and lawmakers who received copies, including state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield.

"We can't allow a company like this to come and survey our land in a void when the situation is so unclear," Tepper said. "We have the responsibility to respect the natural resources and beauty of our lands for the public."

He also emphasized that "there's no clarity on how this fits into the state's energy policy." The creation of a "permanent infrastructure for ‘fracked' gas" conflicts with the state's legislation setting goals to deal with climate change, he said.

"Natural gas is a bridge, but not a permanent solution toward clean energy," Tepper said.

The 36-inch pipeline proposal requires federal and state approvals. The earliest construction date for the $2.75 billion to $3.75 billion project would be April 2017 with completion by November 2018, according to Kinder Morgan.

"Our key considerations include the fact that there has not been any public process at the local, state or federal levels of government examining the purported need for the proposed gas pipeline," Tepper wrote.

He said the company has failed to propose smaller-scale improvements to its existing pipelines in the state.

In response to questions from The Eagle, Richard Wheatley, director of corporate affairs for Kinder Morgan, stated that potential routing of the pipeline may change and that maps provided to local officials indicate a general route for informational purposes.

"There is not a final identified route through Berkshire County," he wrote in an e-mail. "In order for Kinder Morgan to determine the final pipeline route, we will first need to conduct civil surveys that encompass all environmental impacts including, but not limited to, wetland, archaeological and culturally sensitive issues."

"As a good corporate citizen, Kinder Morgan works closely with our landowners and towns," Wheatley asserted.

As for the Mass Audubon denial letter, he wrote: "At this time, we have not formulated a response; however, we are in the process of providing a response and fully intend on working with this group as we do with all of our prospective landowners ... Kinder Morgan looks at various options and ‘work-arounds' and will determine what is the best location for the pipeline route based on the least environmental impact to the surrounding areas."

Wheatley said the company will hold informational sessions in Berkshire County on the expansion project.

In a separate development, Berkshire National Resources Council President Tad Ames denied that the BNRC is "in partnership" with Tennessee Gas or Kinder Morgan at the Olivia's Overlook scenic vista off Richmond Mountain Road in Stockbridge.

According to an open letter by Ames, while the council has not granted permission for pipeline survey work on its land, it has not taken a position supporting or opposing the project.

He acknowledged that in 1994, Tennessee Gas installed a third pipeline in an existing right-of-way through Olivia's Overlook. With the help of state officials, Ames wrote, the organization convinced the company to "mitigate" the impact by improving the parking lot.

Tennessee Gas also made a financial contribution to BNRC which, combined with a state grant and private donations, allowed the development of the Olivia's Overlook and Walsh walking trails.

Meanwhile, Lenox officials are weighing a response to a non-binding citizen petition approved 132-53 last Thursday at the annual town meeting urging the Select Board to oppose the pipeline.

Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, who volunteered that he is a member of Mass Audubon, said, "We'll take our lead directly from the selectmen on how to proceed."

Select Board Chairman David Roche said he favors getting more details before taking a pro or con position on the pipeline. He explained that on Feb. 5, the board approved a request from Tennessee Gas to survey town-owned property in order to gain more information.

Ketchen said he favored an informational forum organized by an organization like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission "to have a civil, fact-based conversation without wading into national or international political issues."

In neighboring Richmond, an informational forum will be held at the public library on this evening at 6:30. "All opinions will be welcome," an announcement from the library stated.

More information on the pipeline issue:

If you go ...

What: Informational forum on the proposed Tennesee Gas Pipeline Co. Northeast Expansion Project.

When: 6:30 tonight

Where: Richmond Free Public Library, 2821 State Road (Route 41). Information: (413) 698-3834.

Speakers: Bruce Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team; anti-pipeline organizer Rosemary Wessel, and Dr. Mehernosh Khan of Berkshire Medical Center.


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