Audience confronts Kinder Morgan

MILFORD – Energy company employees faced a hostile audience of about 200 last week as they began the second phase of the application process for a natural gas pipeline through 19 southern New Hampshire towns.

Kinder Morgan has formally applied to federal regulators, and the Thursday meeting at Hampshire Hills Sports & Fitness Club was part of the next phase: the application to the state regulatory body, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, for a 30-inch pipeline, a compressor station in New Ipswich and two lateral lines to Fitchburg and Methuen, Mass.

Two other meetings, in Windham and in Rindge, were held the same week.

Nine Kinder Morgan representatives sat on the stage area of a converted tennis court as Kathleen McGuire, a retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge, moderated the four-hour session and accepted written comments and questions.
Early on, she told people who called out comments and questions that they had to wait their turn.

"This is not a town hall meeting," she said, and someone replied, "This is New Hampshire, not Texas. We’ve been talked to for a year and a half."

McGuire explained that the meeting format is mandated by state statute because all of the comments have to be said at the microphone so two court reporters could transcribe everything.

The audience applauded when someone asked why the pipeline was diverted from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Allen Fore, the company’s vice president of public affairs, said there were several factors, including the identification of "co-location opportunities in New Hampshire"; before that, he said the company had looked at the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 2 as options.

There were questions about pipeline safety, compensation for well damage, the use of chemical weed treatments, the need for the pipeline, the reason the proposed route was moved north into New Hampshire and even whether it could be a terrorist target.

After the two-hour question-and-answer session, people went to the microphone to comment, several of them concerned about potential damage to Merrimack’s water supply, including its "irreplaceable high-yield aquifer."

Peggy Gilmour, a former state senator from Hollis, said the SEC had been "created by New Hampshire citizens for the protection and benefit of New Hampshire citizens," and after they see the effects on private property, the environment and aesthetics, it is "fairly inconceivable that they will find the benefits outweigh" the costs.

Two representatives of local labor unions spoke about the jobs the project would bring in. Steve Martin, of Milford, said he worked in a Pelham school building near a gas pipeline and no one worried about its safety.

But most of the audience was highly critical, and many of their comments were met with applause.

A woman from Pelham decried the loss of forest and rural character, and said the pipeline would lead to the industrialization of New Hampshire.

Robert Gott, of Milford, said the company "cares only about itself" and "continues to try to control the discourse."

Jennifer Schongar, of Mason, said Kinder Morgan employees made promises they didn’t keep, calling them "charlatans and deceivers," and said "residents of New Hampshire will never have your gas in their homes."

"You are shoving it down our throat, and you will be surprised by how long and how hard we will fight," she said.

Fore described the project as the expansion of an existing natural gas system that "has been serving New Hampshire, New York and New England safely for more than 60 years," and that it would take the plentiful gas from the Marcellus Shale Field in Pennsylvania to customers who have asked for it.

Other representatives talked about the need for the project to bring down electric rates, saying it will be "transformative" and help fund renewable energy projects. Fore said the company has been responsive to people’s needs, downsizing the pipeline from an original 36 inches in diameter and changing the route in Amherst.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has begun its formal review of what’s called the Northeast Energy Direct project, or NED. A third-party team will do the initial review, and then FERC staff will make a recommendation to the five-
person federal commission before FERC issues a "certificate of public convenience and necessity."

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