Citing 1981 evacuation, Sandisfield residents rail against pipeline project


SANDISFIELD -- Roberta Myers remembers when the Tennessee Gas Co. built the second pipeline through her town back in 1981.

During construction, a boulder that was dislodged by blasting ruptured the company's existing pipeline, prompting an evacuation of the north end of town.

"It was horrific," said Myers, a resident of Cold Spring Road. "I grabbed my kids and the dog and left for Otis."

Those memories loomed large on Thursday night for Sandisfield residents, dozens of whom picketed the firehouse prior to an informational meeting about another Tennessee Gas project through their town. More than 100 people, nearly all of whom opposed the project, attended the meeting.

"We know this is a David and Goliath fight but feel we need to take a stand and make our voices heard," resident Jean Atwater-Williams said. "I don't want to be sitting on the deck five years from now looking at that pipeline through my yard wishing I would have done something."

During public comment, Atwater-Williams hoisted a laptop for all to see while she played a YouTube video of a natural gas line explosion in West Virginia.

The proposed 36-inch diameter high-pressure pipe would loop out of one of Sandisfield's existing gas lines and reconnect with it after 3.8 miles. It's part of an $81 million Connecticut Expansion Project, 13 total miles of new line for which the company seeks approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from FERC would allow the company to forge ahead with its plans. Company officials say construction could begin in spring 2016 in order to bring the line into service late that year.

Representatives of Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas, also attended Thursday's meeting. They explained that the project would create more natural gas storage capacity for customers seeking to serve Connecticut markets.

Sandisfield stands to gain an extra $100,000 a year in tax revenue from the new line, according to Allen Fore, director of public affairs with Kinder Morgan. The company already pays Sandisfield roughly $90,000 per year in taxes on its existing lines. Fore also hinted at potential company contributions to the town's police and fire departments.

"We know projects like this have impacts and we want to work with the town and others to do what we can to mitigate those impacts and be a good corporate partner and citizen," Fore said.

Fore and others on Kinder Morgan's environmental and land acquisition teams assured the audience that construction would be conducted safely and in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Some residents pointed to recent incidents to challenge the latter notion. A man said the company this week brought heavy machinery onto his property without notice and violated town conservation laws by traversing a patch of phragmites, an invasive species that occurs in wetlands.

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Other residents questioned Kinder Morgan's record, and said the company routinely "blights neighborhoods," "fouls rivers," "pollutes" and then "attempts to cover it up," before agreeing to pay fines trivial to a $100-plus-billion corporation as "the cost of doing business."

Fore insisted the company's practices compare favorably with its peers.

Residents kept focus on safety, in light of the 1981 accident, and also wanted to know where the gas might go, who stands to pay the construction costs. And they wanted details on company's environmental practices.

Fore named no customers apart from businesses, residents and municipalities in Connecticut and said, according to FERC rules, the company recoups the cost of pipeline construction through a tariff levied against these customers.

The company representatives' answers in other areas were generally vague and left many vocally unsatisfied.

Selectman Patrick Barrett, who said 1981 "left a scar" in Sandisfield, took a strong stand against the proposal. Residents could lose a portion of their land against their will, suffer home devaluation and live in fear of "a time bomb in the backyard."

"And for what? Corporate profits," Barrett said.

When his 9-year-old daughter asked him about the proposal, Barrett was momentarily at a loss for words.

"When my daughter asks a simple question and I have to pause long and hard about the answer, it's wrong for this community," he said.

Barrett also criticized the state departments of Environmental Protection and Energy and Environmental Affairs, both of whom were invited to Thursday's meeting but failed to attend, even though the proposed project traverses state conservation lands.

Another town official, Selectmen Jeffrey A. Gray, spoke at the end of the meeting.

"As you can see, we don't want it here," Gray said. "I've got a funny feeling it's coming anyway. We're a small community, but we're going to fight this until the end."

To reach Phil Demers:
or (413) 281-2859.
On Twitter: @BE_PhilD


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