Amherst Conservation Commission: Gas pipeline could benefit town

AMHERST – The natural gas pipeline through four miles of Amherst would have a limited long-term impact on the town’s ecology and could benefit the town as a whole.

Those were two conclusions from the Amherst Conservation Commission’s environmental assessment of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline companies.

Among the areas covered in the commission’s 36-page report are land use, water resources, hazardous materials, geology and soils, wildlife, air quality, public health, visual resources and pipeline construction methods as they apply to Amherst’s terrain.

The commission concluded that, “based on current knowledge, the installation of the natural gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan appears to have limited long-term impact on the natural systems temporarily impacted by the pipeline construction.”

Along with taxes that would be paid to the town, Amherst should expect other compensation from Kinder Morgan, commission member Bruce Beckley said, and the company has contributed to conservation programs in other states.

“We hope and expect that corporate attitude will continue as they come through southern New Hampshire,” he said in a phone interview.

According to a March 26 story in NJ Environment News, 200 acres in West Milford, N.J. were purchased “as payback” for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s Northeast Upgrade project.

When asked if the company is contemplating any donations of land for conservation purposes in the Milford/Nashua area, Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley, said donations are possible.

“We are always open to suggestions regarding the proposed pipeline project and will be glad to review any specific proposals,” he said in an email Monday.

There were several concerns expressed in the Conservation Commission’s report, however.

The current pipeline route cuts through 1,600 linear feet of Ponemah Bog, a large wetland system maintained by the New Hampshire Audubon Society.

The commission warns that “Kinder Morgan should exercise a large degree of discretion in proposing to traverse and interact with this highly regarded natural resource” that has been developing over 10,000 years.

Some members of the commission’s pipeline committee felt the bog’s acid water could be a threat to the pipeline, said Beckley, a retired engineer, but he said Kinder Morgan’s engineers should be able to deal with the issue of acidity.

“I think they can protect the pipeline through use of HDD (horizontal direction drilling),” a construction method designed to minimize environmental damage.

The route also crosses the Souhegan River in four places, and the assessment says the potential for erosion and the river’s shallow depth requires that the pipeline’s route should be re-assessed in some places.

Selectmen had asked the commission to assess the route’s environmental impacts in December, a few weeks after Kinder Morgan had notified Amherst that it was shifting its route north from Massachusetts, On March 19 the commission issued the report from its Pipeline Environmental Impact Assessment Committee.

The document also notes that an approximate 150-foot clearing parallel to the power line right of way would mean removal of all existing vegetation, including mature trees and visual buffers to the power lines. Construction would also generate dust and noise, and there would be some air quality degradation during construction.

The Conservation Commission warned that its assessment is only preliminary and based on incomplete information, and snow has prevented ground assessment of ecological conditions and the pipeline alignment.

The commission also notes in the introduction that there was a “temptation to address climate change and renewable energy sources, but the commission decided to focus on issues directly related to the town.”

The assessment does not cover safety, since that issue is covered by the selectmen’s task force, it said.

Last week selectmen voted to oppose the pipeline route through Amherst, saying it could damage the town’s rural character and neighborhoods.

A letter from its task force was endorsed by selectmen and addressed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The route through Milford and Amherst parallels the electric power line until it detours away in the area of Souhegan High School and Amherst Middle School and through residential neighborhoods.

The task force’s letter calls those two routes – between the schools or in the neighborhoods – an example of “a bad choice and a worse choice.”

The letter says the project poses unnecessary risks to the river and to the town’s wetlands, including Ponemah Bog and says any route that crosses Ponemah Bog is “completely unacceptable.”

Four river crossings could “introduce not one, but four different ‘points of failure’ both during the construction phase and for decades to come.”

Both documents, the “Letter to Amherst, N.H. Citizens Re: Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company,” the Conservation Commission’s preliminary environmental assessment, are on the town web site.

Wheatley said there will be more public meetings, likely in the summer, and a schedule will be posted on the Northeast Direct Project website when all dates, times and locations have been firmed up, later in the year.

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