Tennessee Gas seeks expedited federal review of project in Sandisfield


Editor's note: An earlier version of this article inaccurately referenced a conversation between Friedman and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's energy staff regarding segmentation. It was Friedman's speculation that the residents' strongest defense may hinge upon the legal status of project segmentation techniques, not the opinion of the staff. The Eagle regrets the error.

SANDISFIELD -- Dismissing environmental concerns by the state and town residents, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is seeking an expedited federal review of its plan to install a 3.8-mile storage loop in the community.

And local residents are hopping mad about it.

"They're like spoiled adolescents," said Jeffrey Friedman, a part-time resident. "Their position is they don't want to be held to the normal environmental standards of comparable projects."

The company has filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to add a 3.8-mile, 36-inch diameter storage loop to one of Sandisfield's two existing gas lines in order to supply its Connecticut markets.

The loop is one part of an $81 million Connecticut Expansion Project totaling 13 miles of new line desired by Kinder Morgan, parent of Tennessee Gas Co.

"Due to the project's relatively minimal scope and limited ground disturbance, Tennessee did not request to use the [FERC] National Environmental Policy Act," procedures for the project, the application states.

The state and local view of the project's scope is quite different.

The town Select Board in May passed a nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to the project. And in June, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation conducted a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review of the proposal.

Based on the findings of that review, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett in July issued a report that requested that the company draft a full environmental impact report addressing the concerns raised in the review.

The state identified a number of significant environmental impacts.

The construction detailed in company documents stands to adversely affect biodiversity, cause erosion and require the removal of old oak and ash trees that also serve as habitats, the state found.

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Further, the proposed route traverses numerous wetlands and vernal pools and activity in these areas would inevitably spread invasive plant species like phragmites.

Of particular concern was the company's proposal to permanently remove more than one million gallons of water from Spectacle Pond in order to test the line.

And much of the targeted area falls under Article 97 protection, the state's strongest conservation law.

Residents feel they have grounds to fight back.

It is Friedman's understanding that the residents' strongest defense may hinge upon the legal status of project segmentation techniques.

Opponents believe segmentation could apply in this case because of another Kinder Morgan infrastructure proposal -- the Northeast Expansion Project, a 250-mile line that would extend from upstate New York and through the Berkshires on the way to Dracut in northeastern Massachusetts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in June that in a similar Kinder Morgan pipeline build in Delaware, the FERC committed a litany of errors, including violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, in permitting a series of related but segmented pipeline projects in that state in 2012.

The decision could serve as future ammunition against similar practices.

"People here feel that this is part of the greater Northeast Expansion Project, that this project is being illegally segmented, that it involves illegal takings of Article 97 [conservation] lands and that the company is totally disregarding Secretary Bartlett's requirements," resident Jean Atwater-Williams said.

Residents and other concerned parties have until 5 p.m. Sept. 4 to submit comments on the proposal to the federal government at www.ferc.gov.

"We thought we had another month or two before ending up in the federal system," said Karen Andrews, a resident of West Stockbridge. "Hundreds of emails are going out. We have this [small] window and that's all we're going to get."

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


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