Amherst task force to meet with Kinder Morgan over pipeline route

AMHERST – The town’s Pipeline Task Force has a tentative date of April 29 to meet with Kinder Morgan and ask the energy company to devise a different gas pipeline route through Amherst.

Selectman John D’Angelo said Monday that the task force will show some possible alternatives, including one parallel to the railroad tracks, and leave the decision up to Kinder Morgan.

But any chosen route has to avoid Ponemah Bog, all the schools, the Souhegan River and residential cul-de-sacs, according to the task force’s criteria.

“I don’t care which one, as long as it avoids all the sensitive areas,” the selectman said.

The Texas-based energy company has proposed building a 36-inch wide pipeline through 17 southern New Hampshire towns, including Milford, Amherst, Mason and Merrimack, part of its Northeast Energy Direct project to bring gas from shale fields in Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass.

This is the second proposed route, and the first one, which was dropped last year, went through northern Massachusetts and would have sent a lateral pipeline up to Amherst’s Bon Terrain Industrial Park. That route would have been fine, said D’Angelo, and the town would benefit from natural gas in Bon Terrain, where development has been hampered by the lack of gas and sewers and its position over an aquifer.

“But we can’t actually force that to happen,” the selectman said. “Let’s put it somewhere we can live with.”

The pipeline should avoid housing developments as much as possible, but any route chosen would affect some houses, he said, and there is no data that suggests Amherst has a chance of avoiding the pipeline entirely.

The task force will also ask company representatives for specific information on when they intend to respond and if the route change will be included in their monthly report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which, along with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, would have final say on the route.

The town will want to know if the company is serious “or just humoring us,” D’Angelo said. Minutes of next week’s meeting will be submitted to FERC.

At the task force’s most recent meeting on April 9, D’Angelo told members they need to come up with factual reasons why the proposed route is not acceptable, and “Not in my backyard,” is not be sufficient, noting the reasonable, fact-based objections in the selectmen’s letter to federal regulators.

Last month selectmen wrote to FERC, saying the current proposed route was poorly chosen and would have “numerous adverse effects on our community and must be changed if this pipeline is to pass through the town at all.”

The letter went into detail on the effects on town character, quality of life, the Souhegan River and Ponemah Bog, “a unique and irreplaceable environment.”

Kinder Morgan’s current proposal follows the electric power lines, except where they go near Amherst Middle School and Souhegan High School.

The task force has also been investigating pipeline safety and its anticipated economic impact.

Colin Lonsdale reported that the safety data he researched shows an “extraordinarily low” incident rate of events capable of causing injury or death – one fatality every 28,000 years.

Shannon Chandley and Reed Panasiti are researching the economic impact of pipelines and data so far is inconclusive.