Ruth Bass: Pipeline is explosive town issue



Protesting things is pretty much not in the psyche of this town. The occasional hot issue might bring a sizable turnout to a town meeting or a selectman's meeting, but even the most perturbed residents don't arrive in demonstration mode. No signs, no marches, no rallies.

This year is different. A giant is threatening to stomp into Richmond, chop down trees, dig cavernous holes, mess up meadows and install yet another underground pipeline filled with potentially life-threatening chemicals. The giant's first stop in Massachusetts is our town -- he's coming from upstate New York where an environmentally unsound procedure called fracking is harvesting gas.

It was amazing at midday last Sunday -- a day perfect for going on a picnic, catching up with gardening or just sprawling on a lounge chair while burgers sizzled on the grill -- to find swarms of people at John Vittori's Hilltop Orchard, ready for a pipeline protest walk across town.

The kickoff was food, drink and talk. Then about half of those attending set off, displaying their anti-pipeline signs and guarding against the sun with a picturesque collection of hats.

How appropriate that in a town where agriculture is valued, the march began at a hillside apple orchard on the western side and crossed the Richmond valley to Bartlett's Orchard on the eastern side. It wasn't competitive this day -- it was community. Down a long hill, across Sleepy Hollow Road and north through the priceless cathedral of trees on Swamp Road they went -- through a landscape of brooks, swamps and bucolic views, sprinkled with houses.

It's reported that somewhere in the giant's files on this proposed new pipeline route the path is described as going through "inconsequential" areas. We are not going to be dismissed as inconsequential, even if we're less famous than Lenox (the pipeline target after us) or Stockbridge. One can only wonder how they defined that: Merely pretty? Not too many buildings to grab? Small population? No famous politicians?

The protest organizers have been busy. In addition to the march, they gathered enough signatures to force a special town meeting where people could voice their opinions about the pipeline and vote on a resolution asking the selectmen for various actions. At the meeting, each of the three selectmen revealed his/her opposition to the pipeline.

For an hour last Wednesday, with the town moderator managing to curb those who wanted to talk on and on, the facts, the emotions and the worries were laid out. The giant is apparently better at stamping his foot than at answering questions -- different answers have been given at different times, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust.

Some speakers dwelled a long time on the fear of leaks, pollution of water and explosions. But while such concerns are a factor, this should not be an issue driven by fear. It must be driven by our insistence on our rights to preserve our environment, something we cherish in this town daily, and our unwillingness to become a corporate tool so gas can flow across the state and be shipped off to Europe.

One speaker asked why the giant didn't follow the Massachusetts Turnpike to the Boston area -- public land, a wide swath on both sides, already used for fiber optics or whatever those reels of rainbow wires were a few years back. And everyone has asked why the giant, whose child is Tennessee Gas, won't add a pipe to the existing route.

Several speakers on that existing route pointed out that Tennessee Gas years ago promised to mow grass and keep the brush down, but abuttors all mow their own because no official maintenance occurs. Just the bit about mowing added a little more doubt about the value of the giant's promises.

Fe, fi, fo, fum. Jack was just a small boy. But he planted his beans, cleverly outwitted the giant and won.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday
editor of The Eagle. Her web site


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