To fight gas pipeline, Hollis is told, use planners more than public opinion

HOLLIS – Normal land-use processes rather than public outrage is the best route for Hollis to pursue if it wants to block or alter the route of a proposed natural gas pipeline through town, says an expert in the field.

“The normal land-use processes of the town should be used to build a record, that this is the position of this town. … I think that the facts and policy arguments that would be developed at the land-use level is more important than an expression of a position, an opinion, at a referendum,” said Robert Ciandella, an attorney specializing in the development of large energy projects, during a May 12 presentation to the board of selectmen.

He was responding to a suggestion that Hollis should call a special town meeting to gauge voter sentiment about the proposed pipeline. Under federal and state regulations, he said, even unanimous opposition would have no legal standing on the pipeline’s future.

Ciandella was hired by the town of Hollis in reaction to the possibility that Kinder-Morgan, parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, would run a 12-inch natural gas pipeline through the town from Pepperell, Mass., to a facility in south Merrimack.

The idea has drawn widespread opposition – more than 150 people showed up at an information hearing at Hollis Brookline High School last month, virtually all against the plan.

Hollis is hardly alone in its concern. Some 350 people crammed into a public hearing with pipeline officials in Pepperell on May 12, too, according to a Lowell Sun story. Most of them were opposed, or at the very least concerned. Under initial plans, Pepperell would see not only the 12-inch side pipeline that might go through Hollis but also a 36-inch mainline carrying gas from New York state.

Kinder-Morgan says the pipeline would help relieve a natural gas crunch in New England, caused largely by a shortage of pipelines carrying supplies from shale fields in New York and Pennsylvania.

A lack of specific details from Kinder-Morgan, which has issued an inexact map about the possible route through town, has complicated local reaction.

“We’re kind of ahead of the curve here – and we want to stay ahead of the curve,” said Hollis Selectman Chairman Mark LeDoux during the Monday hearing. “We’re building the public record … We’re going to do what we can either to move this pipeline, or reposition this pipeline away from private residences or into alternative communities – particularly if it’s not going to benefit us in any share or form.”

A pipeline must get certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to be built. That certification gives the right of eminent domain, placing a pipeline on private property regardless of the owners’ wishes, with compensation. Local government opinion holds little sway with FERC, Ciandella said.

The best place for Hollis to influence the siting process, Ciandella said, is the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, which would have to approve the route. Under state law, that group “does have to listen to local bodies.”

He said groups like the Planning Board, Zoning Board, public safety officials need to weigh in through normal channels.

“The pipeline will follow path of least resistance. We can say, if you go to one of these alternatives, you’re going to find a much easier path to traverse – greater speed,” Ciandella said. “This is in the early stages. … Early engagement, to try to influence the pipeline company about what route they’re going to choose, will be very important.”

In a phone interview, LeDoux said the town’s position was any pipeline should use public rights of way such as roadways or rail rights of way or under powers, rather than a proposed route alongside private house parcels and through a large swath of protected land owned by Beaver Brook Association.

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 to Dracut, south of Hudson, where the gas would enter the existing distribution systems.

The company is also considering whether to build as many as a dozen offshoots to serve customers, including a 10- or 12-inch buried steel pipeline that could run from Pepperell, Mass., cutting diagonally through Hollis to a Liberty Utilities facility on Route 101A in southeast Merrimack. Liberty Utilities is likely to the main, or only, customer using the supply.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).