Hollis BOS and residents discuss pipeline

HOLLIS – It was standing room only at the Hollis Board of Selectmen meeting to discuss the natural gas pipeline project by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., on Monday, April 14, as about 80 people crammed into the Town Hall meeting room for the first local hearing.

Selectman David Petry, former selectmen chairman, clarified that the board was first contacted in the same manner as residents, with a form letter on March 28 seeking permission to conduct surveys on property, and that the board only has the same information given to residents.

“We had to push to even get them to come to meet with us,” said Petry, saying Tennessee Gas officials have stonewalled at every step of the process. Later in the evening, Petry also mentioned how officials had repeatedly approached him and Town Administrator Troy Brown to discuss the project in private, and they refused because they want everything affecting Hollis residents to be discussed in a public forum.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s Northeast Expansion Project would be a buried 187-mile-long, 3-foot-diameter pipeline carrying gas pressurized to about 1,480 pounds per square inch. It could carry as much as two billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, officials say.

It would run from New York state to Dracut, south of Hudson.

Selectmen Chairman Mark LeDoux asked how many residents had been contacted by Tennessee Gas for the survey, and about 30 people raised their hands. When asked how many granted their permission, only one woman raised her hand, and she then asked if there was a way to rescind her permission.

Hollis resident Michael Askenaizer said the pipeline would harm his property and the surrounding area.

“This will run right through my backyard, Beaver Brook and into Brookline,” he said. “It will have a devastating impact on the town and our quality of life. This is not Manchester, not Nashua. We like open land, and we bought our house because it bordered on Beaver Brook. Now, we have this proposal which is absolutely contrary to what this town stands for.”

Askenaizer said he has researched natural gas accidents, and found evidence of explosions and damage. He also voiced concern about the possibility of the pipeline starting a forest fire that would destroy trees and habitats, as well as strain the efforts of the town to control a fire.

“I am thrilled that the town has agreed to hire counsel,” he concluded. “Now is the right time to stop them. I encourage the town to be proactive, I encourage Beaver Brook to be proactive.”

Lacking information

Resident Ed Piker is a civil engineer who has worked in everything from radar to sewers, and as a consultant for Shell Oil.

“This is the most ass-backwards way I have ever heard of anybody putting a project of this scope together,” he said, generating laughter and applause. “Just to drop a bomb on people like this, with no advance studies, no warning, to come around knocking on doors and say, ‘Can I come in and basically condemn your property?’ is pathetic.”

Piker also pointed out the lack of information on alternate routes and economic studies. He said officials need to show the logic of the proposed path, which he described as a zigzagged lightning bolt, because it doesn’t make sense to him from an engineering perspective. He also pointed to inadequate information about the thickness of the pipe, how deep it will be, what the safety zone/right of way distance will be, and the fact that people won’t even be able to plant trees nearby because the roots could penetrate the ground too close to the pipeline.

Court order needed

Drew Kellner, president of the Beaver Brook trustees, explained that they did not sign the form for permission to survey, and that because of conservation easements, Tennessee Gas would need a court order to cut across Beaver Brook property. He also criticized the proposed path of the pipeline due to topographical challenges, and thanked the community for its ongoing support of Beaver Brook.

Pepperell, Mass., would be affected, too

Two women from Pepperell, Mass., representing the Nashoba Conservation Trust, spoke about their experiences with Tennessee Gas officials, who they have been dealing with since January, and their concerns that granting survey permission could lead to actual drilling on people’s land.

LeDoux suggested they invite a representative from the Pepperell Board of Selectmen to meet with Hollis in the future, and that both communities contact their congressional delegations.

He then introduced attorney Rob Ciandella, of the firm Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, who the town has engaged as counsel in this matter. Ciandella outlined the approval process, which requires involvement at the federal, state and local levels.

Ciandella spoke at length about the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee, which is comprised of representatives from agencies such as the Department of Environmental Services, the Public Utilities Commission, Fish and Game, and the Department of Transportation, who assess whether a project unduly interferes with development of a region, or has an adverse effect on aesthetics, air and water quality, natural environment, public health or safety.

His advice was to be proactive in gathering information and working through legal and political channels, and to connect with other municipalities affected by the proposal.

Meeting scheduled

The next meeting on the subject, scheduled to be held with Tennessee Gas officials, is set for 7 p.m. Monday, April 21 at the Hollis Brookline High School gymnasium.