Pittsfield City Council votes in opposition to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. plan

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PITTSFIELD >> The Pittsfield City Council has voted 8-1 to join some three dozen other communities in the state voicing opposition to the proposed $6 billion Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. project.

The council had been urged by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team to take a vote on the issue, which a number of towns along the proposed gas pipeline route across Massachusetts to Dracut have done.

"I am very pleased that Pittsfield has now joined 38 other communities, some not along the pipeline route, in sending a strong message to FERC [Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission] that we don't want this," said Jane Winn, the executive director of BEAT.

The council's vote is non-binding on permitting for the project. The process is about a year away from submission of a final project design.

Prior to the vote, a number of speakers in the packed council chambers voiced opposition and urged the council to take a negative stand on the project. Winn and others reiterated that they believe the pipeline would negatively affect the environment and the image of the "Beautiful Berkshires Brand" as a tourist destination.

Opponents also argued that the state should steer away from major new fossil fuel infrastructure toward renewable energy projects and energy efficiency and become a leader in that regard.

BEAT also had called on Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to recuse himself from the debate over the pipeline because of his affiliation with Global Montello Group, an energy services firm that does business with Kinder Morgan, the parent firm of Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The mayor was the Pittsfield office manager for Global Montello prior to being elected in 2011, and he has said he sometimes acts part time as a consultant for the firm.

Bianchi has supported the project, saying the region is at an economic disadvantage with other regions because of insufficient supplies of natural gas, which affects heating as well as electricity costs for businesses and property owners.

He also reiterated during the public comments portion of the meeting his earlier statements that he doesn't believe he has a conflict of interest as he is not expected to take any action on the proposal, which will primarily be decided at the federal level.

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He added that he has a duty as mayor to speak out on issues important to the city.

Bianchi left the council chambers prior to the council's vote and did not add further comments in the debate.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he was pleased to be able to show his opposition to the gas line project, saying that recent news reports that Kinder Morgan had submitted a preliminary route for the line that still comes close to the city's watershed and Cleveland Reservoir. That had clinched his negative feelings about the project, he said.

Even though the city had raised objections to that portion of the route, "Kinder Morgan didn't want to change it," Krol said.

Councilors Christopher Connell, Lisa Tully, Kevin Morandi and Nicholas Caccamo all spoke in opposition to the plan, saying they feared the possibility of environmental damage, especially in the watershed area.

Morandi and Connell said councilors had waited several weeks to take the vote because they were told local business officials would come in to register their support, but no one did that.

Councilor at large Churchill Cotton said he was not prepared at this time to vote against the project. He said he was not convinced any detrimental effects of the gas line would outweigh the benefits of having an additional source of natural gas.

Opinions both for and against the project at this point are estimates, he said.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop recused himself as he also sits on the Conservation Commission, which might be called upon to weigh in on the gas line project during the permitting process.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont was absent.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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