Opponents appeal state approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline spur through Otis State Forest
Opponents of a proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline loop through Otis State Forest in Sandisfield are seeking to block the state Department of Environmental Protection's water-quality approval certificate issued June 30.
The appeal of the DEP decision in favor of the company's four-mile Connecticut Expansion Project was filed at the state agency on behalf of landowners in Sandisfield, members of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast and the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Environmental Action Team.
The Boston-based environmental law firm of McGregor & Legere handled the filing on Wednesday, said Kathryn Eiseman, the Cummington-based president of the network.
The appeal is a request for a legal hearing at DEP, Eiseman said; "A trial-like proceeding with expert witnesses, motions, briefs and so on, leading up to a recommended decision by an administrative law judge."
The final decision would come from DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, appointed in January 2015 by Gov. Charlie Baker and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., an affiliate of Kinder Morgan, wants to construct a new 36-inch diameter pipeline along an existing route through the state forest, including Spectacle Pond and the Clay River watershed. It's part of a three-segment set of loops in Bethlehem, N.Y., and from Agawam into northern Hartford County in Connecticut.
The expansion project would add natural gas supplies for three Connecticut utility companies as part of a statewide plan to convert 300,000 homes and business to natural gas.
Opposition by local groups and environmental advocates has been fierce. The state acquired the forest for $5.2 million in 2007 to protect it from development, including gas pipelines.
"I feel like the government is turning a blind eye to the environmental damage you can see from TGP's existing pipelines here," stated Sandisfield resident Jean Atwater-Williams, head of the Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline group, which joined the appeal.
"On our property alone, their poor maintenance practices have led to invasive species spreading across wetlands," Atwater-Williams said. "Once they get the go-ahead, I think they do the minimum they can get away with."
"Otis State Forest has become a flashpoint for a lot of people," Eiseman said. "We all want to make sure that the natural resources here are protected, and that DEP and Kinder Morgan follow the letter of the law."
Her group is paying for the appeal and is fundraising to cover the expenses.
"One of the reasons PLAN formed was so that people and organizations across the region could pool their resources to hire top-notch legal and technical experts," Eiseman said in a prepared statement.
Jane Winn, executive director of the environmental action team, said "Kinder Morgan has a terrible track record. I don't think they even live up to their own 'best management practices.'
"I am very concerned about the impacts the project would have on the wetlands and Spectacle Pond," said Winn, a Pittsfield resident
The DEP approval, which included a three-week appeal period, stated that the pipeline expansion meets federal and state clean-water quality standards.
The agency asserted that there is "reasonable assurance" that the project "will be undertaken in a manner which will not violate" the Massachusetts standards. It acknowledged that the project would discharge "dredged or fill material " into nearly 11 acres of adjacent wetlands and other land near the Clam River in Sandisfield.
The DEP decision requires Tennessee Gas to restore and preserve about 36 acres of forest, wetlands, vernal pools and open fields on a parcel of land to be granted to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The parcel also would compensate for the permanent filling of 4,792 square feet of vegetated wetland.
As additional compensation, the company must restore Spectacle Pond Brook, which is a cold water fishery, and two other culverted streams.
Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also has cleared the way for the project.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
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