Hollis residents raise concerns about pipeline proposal, citing effects on conservation land

HOLLIS – Concerns and complaints flew fast and furious as some 150 people gathered to hear the first official presentation about a possible line carrying natural gas through Hollis.

The informational hearing featured a half-hour presentation from representatives of Kinder-Morgan, the firm that owns Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., followed by hours of discussion.

The meeting wound up at 10 p.m. April 21, and it seemed that the opposition that erupted in Hollis weeks ago may have given Kinder-Morgan pause.

“We never have any shortage of alternatives offered or brought up to us. Those that are viable … I’m sure the state is going to be very vigorous about us looking at alternatives,” said Allen Fore, spokesman for Morgan-Kidder. “Specific to Hollis, there has been discussion, there has been pretty vocal interest. … It is fair to say that we’re looking at variations of what you see on this map.”

“We’re going to resist this, and we’re going to make this so expensive that you’re not going to want to do it,” said resident Dave Tiffany, who lives on Wright Road.

Aside from scores of town residents, April 21’s gathering drew state Sen. Peggy Gilmour, Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, state Rep. Garry Daniels and representatives of at least one U.S. senator’s office and Liberty Utilities gas company, which is likely to be the major customer of the line.

More than two dozen town residents asked questions, often aggressive and critical ones.

Multiple comments from officials and the audience indicated that Hollis is particularly concerned about the effect that a buried pipeline with a permanent 50-foot-wide easement would have on conservation land, notably the hundreds of acres owned by Hollis-based Beaver Brook Association.

Drew Kellner, president of the Beaver Brook trustees, told the meeting that “tens of thousands of dollars” have already been donated to a “property defense fund” that would fight the pipeline location through conservation areas.

When it comes to defending conservation land, “You haven’t seen anything yet,” said resident Clare Helfman, to loud applause.

Questions also came up about the effect on property values, on safety, whether anybody in Hollis would be a customer of any gas, which would depend upon eventual connections made by Liberty Utilities or other providers, the environmental effects of fracking, and whether the gas would be exported – “the financial viability is based upon local distribution companies in the region who say they have needed additional supply,” Fore said.

Questions also arose about eminent domain, which can happen once a pipeline project gets a certificate of public need from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In New Hampshire, it also would require the OK of the five-person Site Evaluation Committee, appointed by the governor.

Questions also arose about at what point the “right of entry,” as defined in state statute 371:2-A – that is, the right of a company representative to come onto private land without permission – might enter the situation after filings with the state Public Utilities Commission but before any ruling by the federal FERC.

During the presentation, several speakers urged Liberty Utilities to take advantage of the existing Tennessee Gas pipeline that comes up from Dracut, Mass., into New Hampshire, rather than building another connector.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline wants to build a 187-mile long, three-foot diameter buried pipeline to carry pressurized natural gas from shale fields in eastern New York state through northern Massachusetts, ending in Dracut, south of Hudson, where the gas would enter the existing distribution systems. The pipeline could begin carrying gas no earlier than fall 2018, the company has said.

Along with the main pipeline, the company is considering whether to build as many as a dozen offshoots to serve customers, including a 10- or 12-inch buried steel pipeline that under current plans would run from Pepperell, Mass., cutting diagonally through Hollis to a Liberty Utilities facility on Route 101A, by the rail lines, in southeast Merrimack.

The line would cut through land owned by about 90 property owners, including the town and Beaver Brook Association, although no certain route has been determined.

It would be buried three to five feet, and would pay property tax under utility rates. Four-foot-tall markers would rise out of the ground at occasional points.

A company representative said the right-of-way is not sprayed by herbicide or pesticide. It is kept clear by mowing.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s existing network extends through Hudson, Windham and other towns around the Interstate 93 corridor.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline said it has not yet made a business decision to go forward, but the idea has drawn considerable attention and opposition in Hollis, as in many Massachusetts towns.

The company began approaching homeowners along possible pipeline routes in March, asking to survey their property.

At least 30 Hollis property owners, including Beaver Brook Association as well as private homeowners, have been asked to allow surveys, according to a previous hearing held in town.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline says it could carry as much as two billion cubic feet of gas a year, more than a third of New England’s current usage.

The firm Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella has been hired by Hollis as counsel.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter at (@granitegeek).