Lenox native choosing to stand his ground against Tennessee Gas Co.
LENOX -- A fifth-generation native and energy business owner is waging a David vs. Goliath battle against the proposed natural gas pipeline that would snake through his secluded woodland retreat bordering the Housatonic River.
But Jeffrey Clifford, owner of Clifford Oil Co., says he's sleeping somewhat better now, following a response to his recent letter to Gov. Deval Patrick.
Clifford's ancestors, Daniel and his son James, arrived from England around 1860 and founded the Clifford Building Co., which morphed into lumber and coal companies before it became an oil and propane distributor with about 4,000 customers.
In his Aug. 29 letter to Patrick, Clifford wrote that his family faces "a potential life-altering crisis and we are feeling a little desperate. ... With regard to my business, I realize that this gas will not impact my market area. What does impact us immensely is that this proposed line bisects our five-acre family homestead diagonally."
Clifford, 49, said the property he developed from the wooded lot purchased in 1992 was designed as "truly something special" with a goal of selling it after his children leave home and he and his wife, Samantha, retire. In addition to the expansive home with an outdoor pool and pool house, he had three massive solar panels installed, resulting in zero power costs and annual income from the state's Solar Renewable Energy Credits program.
Describing his Roaring Brook Road property on the eastern slope of October Mountain as "very unique and remarkable," Clifford wrote that he has "grown very fond of it."
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. wants to construct a 250-mile pipeline from upstate New York to Dracut in northeastern Massachusetts. It would follow a proposed route through slices of eight Berkshire County communities -- Richmond, Lenox, Washington, Pittsfield, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru. Kinder Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas, would formally apply for the project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2016, with a goal of beginning construction in April 2017 and putting it into service by November 2018.
Several of those communities, as well as some state and federal lawmakers, have opposed the project, citing concerns about the pipeline's potential impact on the environment, public safety, and the transport of gas obtained by the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, or "fracking."
And as in Clifford's case, many landowners don't like the pipeline being routed through their property.
During a conversation this past week, Clifford said he was pleased by an acknowledgement from a Patrick aide, assuring him by phone that the governor had read his letter, "that he had somebody working on it, and not to worry. ‘Don't lose sleep' is what she basically said."
"It can't hurt," Clifford acknowledged. "I would like to think [Tennessee Gas] would realize, why would they ruin a piece of property that's very unique in this area and go through so many wetlands?"
He also received a message from the state's Environment Undersecretary Martin Suuberg, offering a personal phone consultation.
"Undersecretary Suuberg spoke with Mr. Clifford about his letter to the governor, thanked him for reaching out and provided Mr. Clifford with a number of resources he could use, including lead contacts at Kinder Morgan and a link to FERC's website that is available for potentially affected landowners," Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Krista Selmi stated.
Gov. Patrick, an initial supporter of the pipeline proposed by the Tennessee Gas parent company, Kinder Morgan, has backed away from it in recent weeks as administration officials disclosed that their support for the massive project is on hold.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Maeve Vallely Bartlett vowed that two state departments -- the Energy Facilities Siting Board and the Department of Conservation and Recreation -- will intervene to examine Kinder Morgan pipeline projects affecting the state.
Clifford was visited recently by a Tennessee Gas Co. subcontractor, land agent Steven R. Ferranti, of Northeastern Land Services in Agawam, who performed an informal survey of the property.
"Originally, I got a letter in the mail and I ignored it," Clifford admitted. Then, returning from vacation last month, he found a tag from Ferranti on his front door. At that point, he decided, "I'm better off speaking with these guys and having a dialogue rather than having them put it where they want without my having any say in it."
Clifford said that during a "very cordial conversation," Ferranti was noncommittal about slightly altered routes that would take the pipeline either on the edge of his land, avoiding nearby wetlands, or just to the north through state-owned woods. "He was stressing over and over that this was proposed and was not a finished thing," Clifford added.
He remains concerned that the proposed route with its 50-foot easement not only would narrowly miss his solar panels but also take out his propane tanks and a row of 100-year-old hemlocks. Clifford said he is uncertain about agreeing to a formal land survey.
"I'm not seeing where that's going to get me where I want to be," he said. "On the other hand, I can't really stop what's going to happen if that's indeed where they want to put it."
Ferranti, contacted by The Eagle, declined comment and referred questions to Kinder Morgan, which plans to file a preliminary application to federal regulators soon for its Northeast Energy Direct Project.
"You're not going to fight the federal government and that's basically what this is," said Clifford. "My greatest hope is having an ally like Gov. Patrick who can get somebody in the environmental area [involved]. Because it's not just my property, it's the wetlands to get to it."
For more information:
Property owners concerned about the preliminary route of Kinder Morgan's Tennessee Gas Co. Northeast Energy Direct Project can contact the following for more information and answers to questions:
Jim Hartman, right-of-way agent for Kinder Morgan: email@example.com or (860) 763-6033.
Allen Fore, vice-president, public affairs, Kinder Morgan: Allen_fore@kindermorgan.com or (630) 725-3044.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission publication for potentially affected landowners: www.ferc.gov/for-citizens/citizen-guides/citz-guide-gas.pdf
Source: Massachusetts Energy & Environmental Affairs
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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