They wait for word

AMHERST – The town could know by next month whether the company proposing a natural gas pipeline route through southern New Hampshire will agree to change the route through Amherst.

At a meeting with energy giant Kinder Morgan last month the town’s Pipeline Task Force asked for an alternate route, and last week Selectman John D’Angelo told the Board of Selectmen that the task force received a verbal commitment and later an email commitment to get back to Amherst the first part of June, if only to request a time to meet again.

In addition, the task force is putting together a letter to address the question of whether the 36-inch gas pipeline, which is proposed to go through 17 southern New Hampshire towns on its way to Dracut, Mass., “actually belongs in New Hampshire,” said D’Angelo, who is a selectmen’s representative to the group.

That letter, as well as the agenda and the minutes of the April meeting, will be sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency, along with the state Site Evaluation Committee, that will have final say on the route.

The four-mile route through town parallels the electric power line right of way, expect where it avoids Souhegan High School and goes into the Simeon Wilson and Thornton Ferry II neighborhoods.

It also goes through residential neighborhoods south of Route 101A, under the Souhegan River four times and through conservation land, including Ponemah Bog.

The town maintains that route is unnecessarily disruptive.

At the task force’s April 28 meeting, energy company representatives told the task force they would consider a suggestion to move the route south to the area of Bon Terrain Industrial Park and possibly parallel to Route 101A or the railroad tracks.

“Our hope is a route that is less disruptive and intrusive,” D’Angelo said.

Which is not to say any route through Amherst is wanted, said board Chairman Dwight Brew and D’Angelo agreed.

It is “bold-faced, italic and highlighted” in the task force minutes, he said, “The fact that we are sitting down and discussing routes with Kinder Morgan could not be construed to imply that we approve of or support this pipeline coming through Amherst.”

The task force has been going over research on pipelines and last month released reports on safety and economic impact. The safety report concluded that major accidents would be extremely rare. The economic report concluded that effects are uncertain, but Kinder Morgan’s claims that property values would not go down are not credible.

D’Angelo said they might hear from Kinder Morgan prior to the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting, scheduled for June 8 and by the end of June the task force might have finished its work.

Kinder Morgan is scheduled to file its route plan with FERC in July, and a decision by FERC would not be expected until late 2016.

Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, is required to apply to FERC for a certificate of “public convenience and necessity.” and, according to Kinder Morgan’s website, “in deciding whether to issue a certificate for the NED Project, FERC will balance the public benefits of the project against the potential adverse consequences.”

The company also needs other federal and state permits and authorizations for specific aspects of the project, such as air emissions, erosion and sedimentation control, wetlands crossings, etc. The process and timing of other applicable federal and state permits are concurrent with the FERC process.

This is the second route proposed for the NED project. Last year one going through much of northern Massachusetts was scratched because of what the Boston Globe called “fierce local opposition.”

This newest preferred route enters the state in Cheshire County and heads east into Hillsborough County, going through Greenville, Mason, Brookline, Milford, Amherst, Merrimack, Hudson and Litchfield, then on to Londonderry before heading south to Dracut, Mass.

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