Another Amherst pipeline route?

AMHERST – If a natural gas pipeline has to go through Amherst, one selectman says he will work to get another route through town.

Energy company Kinder Morgan announced in December that its new preferred route for an underground pipeline across southern New Hampshire would go through 17 towns, including Milford and Amherst, following electric power lines. Fifty or 60 homeowners in each town would be directly affected.

“I think they picked a bad route, for a number of reasons,” said Selectman John D’Angelo, during the Jan. 26 board meeting. “If it has to go through Amherst, I will be pushing pretty hard to get it moved in Amherst,” he said.

D’Angelo is the selectmen’s representative to the town’s pipeline task force, which now has seven members that are analyzing the town’s options and the pipeline’s impact, including its effect on property values.

The Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas pipeline through Amherst would be part of a 70-mile New Hampshire route through 17 towns. The 36-inch wide transmission line would carry natural gas from shale fields in Pennsylvania to an end point in Dracut, Mass.

The possibility of moving the route to another part of Amherst is “one of the things I think the task force will get into,” D’Angelo said.

Chairman Dwight Brew said he doesn’t understand how the current route through southern New Hampshire was chosen.

If you look at a map of New England, he said, it’s difficult to understand why the route goes through private property and conservation land when it could go along, for example, Route 2 in northern Massachusetts.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said in an email that locating a pipeline along highways “could create issues with existing buried facilities, as well as the potential for more land disturbance and environmental issues.” According to the Kinder Morgan web site’s question and answer page, routing pipeline facilities in or along existing highways or road corridors can present safety challenges.

“Highway corridors generally already have existing utility infrastructure located in or around their corridors,” it says.

“By locating a pipeline in a separate corridor, there is much less likelihood that damage will occur to the existing infrastructure during construction, or that the new pipeline will be damaged by third-party construction or maintenance activities by other utilities or road crews.”

In Amherst, the current preferred route crosses the southern part of town and veers away from the power line corridor in order to avoid the high school and middle school. It also goes under the Souhegan River several times and returns to the power line route near the Merrimack border.

Kinder Morgan operates about 50 miles of natural gas pipeline in New Hampshire, and the 76-mile New Hampshire expansion route enters the state in Cheshire County and heads east, going through Greenville, Mason, Brookline, Milford, Amherst, Merrimack, Hudson, Litchfield and Londonderry before it heads south to Dracut.

Among the residential areas affected in Amherst are Patricia Lane and Simeon Wilson Road. In Milford, affected properties are in the Federal Hill area. The Amherst Conservation Commission is looking at the pipeline’s effect on the entire town, not just conservation land environment, selectmen said.

The Amherst Pipeline Task Force is composed of town residents and employees who are researching and collecting data and analyzing and identifying ways they can respond to the plans.

Among their tasks are understanding the process and time line and the legal framework behind the proposed pipeline, and key points where Amherst might intervene.

Task force member Joe McCool said they plan to file comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March.

The energy company must seek approval from FERC as well as the state Site Evaluation Committee for energy projects.

McCool said the group is studying all the legal, environmental and political issues surrounding the pipeline including its potential impact on Amherst’s rural character. Three of the town’s major natural resources – Ponemah Bog, the Souhegan River and the Bon Terrain aquifer – will be affected, he said.

Kinder Morgan says the pipeline project is being developed to meet the Northeast’s growing energy needs, while opponents say the natural gas will be shipped offshore and not benefit local towns.

A Kinder Morgan open house scheduled for Jan. 27 at Hampshire Hills was postponed until Tuesday, Feb. 24, from 6-8 p.m.

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