Our Opinion: Kinder Morgan must do right by Sandisfield

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The bucolic hamlet of Sandisfield, tucked away in Berkshire County's southeast corner, was minding its own business as it always had. Suddenly an energy-hungry world arrived at its doorstep in the form of legions of vehicles bearing heavy construction equipment and stacks of steel pipes.

They were there to lay down a gas pipeline — the 13-mile-long Connecticut Expansion Project — across a section of the adjacent Otis State Forest. The project launched by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and its parent corporation, Kinder Morgan, triggered civil disobedience and even a pilgrimage by a group of sympathetic Native Americans. As construction activity and the attendant brouhaha wind down, however, Sandisfield — a community of fewer than a thousand year-round residents — finds itself facing the resulting mess like a hotel owner surveying the aftermath of a raucous bachelor party.

With winter approaching and road repair season rapidly slipping away, Route 23 through the town's land area bears the bumps and bruises of constant abuse. Sandisfield's roads weren't designed for this kind of load, and the construction has given the expected seasonal wear and tear an unprecedented head start. "The road is shot," said Bobby O'Brien, the town's highway superintendent. He worries that the ravaged roadway will continue to deteriorate even after the trucks are gone for good (Eagle, November 14.)

From the point of view of the locals, Sandisfield should be made whole by the company that wore out its roads. In fact, that is also the stated view of Kinder Morgan. "We're absolutely committed to returning (the roads) to their prior condition," said David W. Conover, the corporation's vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, to The Eagle. "We have every intention; road condition is a pretty black-and-white issue."

If restoration is the corporation's intention, it appears to be rather slow in implementing it. In 2015, both town and company were negotiating a deal that would have provided Sandisfield $1 million to mitigate construction damage. The deal fell through. Now, Superintendent O'Brien pleas vainly for aid from the company. He talks weekly to the foreman for Kinder Morgan's contractor, who says that he can provide no answers because the company won't give him any.

State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who represents the 4th Berkshire District, is waging a rear-guard action to help make things right for Sandisfield. He is reaching out to the attorney general's office and to MassDOT, in hopes of pressuring Kinder Morgan to "honor their obligation."

Governor Baker, who told The Eagle editorial board last May that his office would monitor the state of the town's roads, should join Mr. Pignatelli and state Senator Adam Hinds, both of whom opposed the project in the first place, in assuring that Kinder Morgan does right by Sandisfield. As Senator Hinds said, "It's time for Tennessee Gas to come back to the table." Going forward, as an "incentive" for corporations to be good citizens, the state should require that those involved in large construction projects place funds in an escrow account in anticipation of repairs.

Sandisfield will not benefit from a pipeline built to transport natural gas to Connecticut. It certainly shouldn't be punished. The Houston-based energy firm has an opportunity to be a good corporate citizen and do the right thing. It is incumbent upon the governor's office to lead the way in prodding it in that direction.




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