Amherst selectmen say no to pipeline

AMHERST – Selectmen have decided to oppose the natural gas pipeline route proposed by Kinder Morgan. The board voted unanimously Monday night, and the town now joins several of the 17 towns on the pipeline’s 70-mile route through southern New Hampshire that are opposing it.

The vote came prior to a public meeting with pipeline officials in the Souhegan High School theater where about 350 people questioned company representatives about the safety of having a 36-inch wide transmission line cutting through residential neighborhoods and conservation land in the southern part of town.

Comments from the audience were often highly critical and sometimes hostile and a couple of times moderator Nate Jensen asked for civility.

“If the pipeline is safe, why does it circumnavigate north of Souhegan High School?” asked Joan Poro.

Project Manager Mark Hammrich said in the past the company “got pushback” when it tried to site pipelines near schools.

“It’s not as much for safety concerns, as it is perception,” he said.

“So you thought it would be easier to battle property owners on Simeon Wilson Road” than to battle parents? Poro responded.

When company officials said studies of how gas pipelines impact property values showed no impact, people laughed, and Selectman John D’Angelo said the homes that had been studied were built after, not before, the pipelines were built. The route affects properties on Thornton Ferry Road II and Simeon Wilson Road neighborhood as well as the Patricia Lane area, off Route 122.

They also laughed when company vice president Allen Fore said the route would still “impact Massachusetts significantly.”

Last year the preferred route was moved north into southern New Hampshire, although some of the route goes through portions of western Massachusetts. Opponents believe it was moved because of public pressure.

Joseph McCool, an abutter and a member of the pipeline task force, wanted to know why the company’s earliest communications to affected residents referred to the pipeline as a “federal undertaking” when Kinder Morgan and its partner, Tennessee Gas, are for-profit entities.

Tiani Coleman said her house on Simeon Wilson Road would not be directly affected, but “there is no way we’d pay what we paid” for the property with a pipeline through the neighborhood.

Company officials called the negotiating process with individual homeowners “fair and equitable.”

Selectmen posed written questions to Kinder Morgan ahead of the meeting, asking about the overall economic impact, the company’ safety record, and how it chose the route.

Hammrich said location near power lines and away from environmentally sensitive areas factored in the decision-making process.

Another question concerned cul-de-sac roads and how residents on Patricia Lane, where there is only one way out, would be able to leave in the case of a catastrophe.

Hammrich said there would be extra safety precautions, including thicker pipe walls, but the company hasn’t looked at other means of egress. He also said the company would work with the town to form an emergency operations plan.

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