Sandisfield residents wary of new natural gas pipeline plan
SANDISFIELD -- While much attention has focused on a proposed natural gas line across northern Massachusetts, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is also seeking to install a 3.8-mile segment of line in Sandisfield.
A number of townspeople have expressed concerns about the project and say they are organizing a group to oppose the line. The 36-inch diameter pipe would loop out of an existing gas line through the town, follow a close parallel path and then reconnect with it after 3.8 miles.
Known as the Connecticut Expansion project, it is a $77 million proposal that would also include loop segments in New York state and Connecticut, for a total of 13 miles of pipe, according to Richard N. Wheatley, director of communications for Kinder Morgan Inc. of Houston, the parent firm of Tennessee Gas.
Wheatley said a permit application for the work is expected to be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late in the second quarter of the year. "Pending regulatory approvals, the expansion is expected to be operational Nov. 1, 2016," he said Monday in an email.
Sandisfield residents, who asked not to be named at this stage of the permitting process, said they were notified by the company that the project also includes construction of 1.4 miles of pipeline looping in Albany County, N.Y., and another 8.1 miles of piping in Hamden County, Mass., and Hartford County, Conn.
The project "will provide 72,000 dekatherms per day of additional long-term capacity for two local distribution customers," Wheatley said.
A dekatherm is a measure equal to 100,000 British Thermal Units.
While the proposed route follows an existing gas line that enters from New York at Richmond and angles to the south toward Springfield with hubs into Connecticut and the Pioneer Valley, Sandisfield residents say they are concerned about the expanded right-of-way it would require.
They said there are two existing gas mains on that route through Sandisfield -- installed in the 1950s and early 1980s. The residents believe approximately a 75-foot swath of land might have to be cleared during construction to include require spacing from other piping and a work zone.
One resident said the project might require that "thousands of trees" be cut and construction in sensitive environmental areas.
While residents report being contacted last fall about permission for the company to do survey work on their land, no exact route has been announced. The FERC permitting process will require a planned route and public meetings in the affected areas.
State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he and Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, met recently with Kinder Morgan representatives in Boston and learned that the project plans are not yet complete. Downing said he asked to be informed when meetings on the Tennessee Gas Line proposals are to be held, and he’s been in contact with Sandisfield officials and intends to keep in contact with other officials and citizen groups as well.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said he has constituents in Sandisfield and in Lenox, where the proposed new northern route gas line would likely travel. Project details "are very vague" right now, he said, adding, "I told [company officials] that when it gets close, I want to join them [during public meetings]."
Town Administrator Lisa Blackmer said Monday she has been trying to contact Kinder Morgan officials by phone to determine when meetings will be scheduled.
A number of residents in towns along the tentative route of the new line Tennessee Gas proposes -- branching off the existing line in Richmond and angling north to cross the state’s northernmost towns and extend to Dracut -- also say they are organizing to oppose it.
In addition to concerns about the effects on the environment and possible methane gas leaks into the atmosphere, opponents say they want to keep "fracked gas" out of Massachusetts. Gas extracted from the rock deposits with the controversial fracking process, which involves forcing water and chemicals into the ground under high pressure to free pockets of gas, has greatly expanded U.S. natural gas reserve estimates and is underway in Pennsylvania and elsewhere and under consideration in New York state.
One of the opposition groups maintains the website, nofrackedgasinmass.org. Information on activities in towns in the tentative pathway are posted there.
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