Amherst homeowners organize pipeline resistance

AMHERST – Town officials promised last week to hold only public meetings and not to meet in private with Kinder Morgan, the energy company that wants to run a natural gas pipeline through Amherst and 16 other New Hampshire towns.

Meanwhile residents who live in neighborhoods that could be affected by the pipeline have begun organizing their opposition.

“Amherst has now jumped into the fray,” said Joseph McCool in a phone interview Dec. 26.

McCool said his house on Simeon Wilson Road is near the pipeline’s newest path.

“We are just waking up to the reality … People are going door-to-door” the day after Christmas, he said, giving out signs. They are also contacting their Congressional representatives and environmental groups and will probably seek to have a special town meeting … We are pulling lots of different levers in this campaign.”

At the Dec. 22 selectmen’s meeting, about a dozen Amherst homeowners pressed for more information and asked for complete transparency in the town’s dealings with the company.

The current pipeline plan is part of a 70-mile New Hampshire route through 17 towns, with a 36-inch-wide pipe carrying natural gas from shale fields in Pennsylvania to New England.

Amherst’s four miles of pipeline would for the most part follow existing power lines. Because the route bypasses the high school and middle school, some of it would go into residential neighborhoods.

Jon Michael Vore told selectmen he has barely been able to sleep after learning the route could be 30 feet from the bedroom of his house on Simeon Wilson Road.

“How could I sell my house with a 36-inch gas pipeline running through” the property? he said.

McCool, who is Vore’s neighbor, said he has seen multiple maps of the pipeline’s route and one of them shows the it going “under my driveway and over my well.”

Other residents expressed worries about safety and the impact on property values and the environment, including Souhegan River, where the route shows the pipeline crossing the river four times.

A less painful route?

Selectman John D’Angelo told the roughly 15 residents who came to meeting that the board is concerned about the 66 Amherst homes that could be affected and the town has an opportunity to get a “less painful” route.

At the moment, the pipeline’s path “is not locked in stone,” said the selectman, who had met last month with officials from Kinder Morgan and the town of Milford, where the pipeline route is expected to affect about 50 property owners.

“If we had a choice, we would say no” to Kinder Morgan, said Chairman Dwight Brew, but that’s not the choice they were given. The final decisions would be made by state and federal agencies.

The town has to make sure it is safe and environmentally friendly, “and that’s about the extent of our leverage,” the selectman said.

To strengthen its leverage, the town will reach out to state and federal officials and work with the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, which is putting together a commission, probably after the holidays, so “we won’t be acting alone,” said Selectman Mike Akillian, “We can’t jump up and say, ‘Oh my God, we’re against it’ … We need to get together with all the people affected,” he said.

Homeowners called the letters they received from the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, misleading in that they said the project was “approved” and called it a federal undertaking.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said there needs to be a pipeline, said D’Angelo, but this route has not been approved.

Rob Chesebrough, of Hollis, who is part of an anti-pipeline group called New Hampshire Pipeline Awareness told selectmen that it’s not true the pipeline will be under the power lines – it will be within the power line right of way, a wide swath of land. He told resident to build awareness and “wake up your neighbors.”

The homeowners applauded him and also applauded when the Amherst board voted 5-0 not to meet in private with Kinder Morgan. Selectmen also said they would establish a distribution list for sending information to homeowners and post information on the town website.

Pipeline ‘open houses’

Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan’s vice-president of public affairs, has said “open houses” will be held in the middle of January at dates to be determined, to provide information. There will also be public hearings on the state and federal levels with a goal of beginning construction in the fall of 2016 and finishing in the first quarter of 2018.

Last summer a pipeline plan that would have gone through the 2,200-acre Beaver Brook Association was scuttled after massive resistance from Hollis and a number of Massachusetts towns. That plan included a small lateral line going into Amherst for about 1,000 feet in the vicinity of the Bon Terrain industrial park.

Locally, the new preferred route passes through Mason before entering Milford near its border with Brookline. Then it crosses northern Brookline, re-enters southeastern Milford and extends through Amherst and Merrimack on its way to Londonderry where it heads back down to Massachusetts.

A major deviation from the PSNH power line route occurs around Souhegan High School and Amherst Middle School, where the power line cuts through school property. Instead, the route maneuvers north around the schools.

If it had gone near the schools, someone at the Amherst meeting said, the entire town would have been up at arms.

The route shown on maps includes a 400-foot-wide path, although the pipeline will only require a 50-foot-wide right-of-way, with a 100-foot-wide area needed during construction. The tunnels to carry the pipelines underneath the rivers are included in initial maps prepared by the company.

Plans also call for a tunnel to be bored underneath the Merrimack River near the Anheuser-Busch plant, and under the Souhegan River near Souhegan High School. Drilling would be under bedrock, up to 30 to 40 feet under the river,

“In a very real sense we’ve asked for this pipeline to come into New England,” D’Angelo said at the meeting, because elected state leaders want to improve the energy infrastructure.

In 2013 New England governors issued a letter advocating for, among other things, a natural gas pipeline.

The region’s increasing dependence on natural gas to produce electricity – about half the region’s power plants now run on gas rather than coal, hydropower or nuclear energy – has led to shortages during the winter, when much of the supply is diverted for heating buildings. This has caused electric prices to spike. Prices from several utilities are slated to rise by one-third to one-half this winter, because it will be so expensive to buy natural gas to create the electricity

The Merrimack town council recently voted to attend only public meetings about the pipeline, and Fitzwilliam selectmen passed a measure to forbid Kinder Morgan officials or representatives from surveying town land. Officials in Rindge took similar action.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.