Sandisfield rejects $50K Kinder Morgan 'gift' after pipeline built

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SANDISFIELD — At first, it looked like a gift from the pipeline company, perhaps to make up for six months of wear and tear the town endured during pipeline construction last year.

But Kinder Morgan later revealed that a promised $50,000 donation to the town was an exchange of sorts — and not a very equitable one.

"This went from being a gift to a contract," said Brian O'Rourke, chairman of Sandisfield's Select Board. "We would have had to sign a legally binding document that would release [the company] from all potential liabilities ... for any past, present or future problems that might arise around the pipeline."

O'Rourke said the company had asked that the money be dedicated to roads or a new highway garage, which is now being replaced with insurance money after it burned in December, in a catastrophic fire.

Word of the gift came at some point after Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. had, last November, completed almost 4 miles of natural gas pipeline spur through town as part of its larger, 13-mile tri-state Connecticut Expansion Project.

The construction stirred several layers of controversy — everything from the destruction of a stretch of state-owned and protected Otis State Forest, to the larger threat of methane emissions and greenhouse gases.

The project shook the town in other ways. Residents and town officials watched roads take a beating from a proliferation of heavy pipeline trucks and other equipment — roads that were already delicate in a town hard-pressed for cash.

And residents have said that the noise, traffic, earthmoving, a steady stream of protests and police activity vanquished their peace.

In 2016, town officials said that Kinder Morgan backed out of an agreement with the town for $1 million the company said it would donate for town infrastructure and repair costs.

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And in May, the $50,000 that O'Rourke called a "show of good faith" never appeared, prompting town officials to ask the company why.

"When we started asking, this contract document showed up, and we said, whoa — this is not what was presented.'"

"It was worded very broadly to take in any sort of action you could think about," said Town Administrator Fred Ventresco, speaking to the details of Kinder Morgan's contract. "It was sweeping language. We would give up pretty much all of our rights."

The release from liability did not apply to "conservation issues," according to Paul Gaudette, the town Conservation Commission's chairman.

Last month, town attorneys advised officials not to sign, and O'Rourke and the board's two members unanimously agreed. Ventresco rung Kinder Morgan officials and told them the appearance of sudden conditions were unfair, but that the town is open to negotiation.

They haven't heard from Kinder Morgan since.

A Kinder Morgan spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

The company did pay to chip seal Cold Spring Road, a north/south artery that runs along the pipeline's access points, and which deteriorated further during construction. O'Rourke said a contractor is about a week from finishing that work, and said that it, too, isn't quite what the town had hoped for.

"We would have preferred a full asphalt job," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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