Amherst facing pipeline threat

AMHERST – The dozens of people who showed up for a hearing on a proposed natural gas pipeline Monday night learned that the town is forming a task force and that it needs to act fast if it wants to alter the plans of energy giant Kinder Morgan.

The company’s new preferred route for its Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline is to go for 76 miles through New Hampshire, most of it following Public Service power lines, and that route includes Amherst and Milford.

Selectmen showed the standing-room-only crowd slides of a draft charter for an Amherst Pipeline Task Force, which will analyze the town’s options and the pipeline’s expected economic impact, including the affect on property values. The task force should also learn the pipeline approval process, timeline, and the legal framework and construction plans.

And it should ask Kinder Morgan to address its “less than stellar” safety record, said Selectman John D’Angelo.

“Be prepared to put some time into this,” D’Angelo said. “We need to act fast. We can’t wait a year. The next nine months are critical.”

Kinder Morgan’s previous route ran south of Amherst, but it was scuttled last year after massive resistance in Hollis and in the Massachusetts towns along its route.

“Hollis did manage to make the pipeline go away – they sent it to Amherst,” said D’Angelo.

Landowners asked whether they should allow their land to be surveyed, and the selectman told them they probably should because it might give them an opportunity to influence the plans.

“They are going to come up with some way to install that pipeline, D’Angelo said.

But Joe McCool of Simeon Wilson Road warned everyone not to think of it as inevitable.

“If elected officials in Massachusetts had thought it was inevitable, this pipeline would never have been moved north.”

Residents also learned that John Harvey, chairman of the Amherst Conservation Commission, is meeting with other conservation commissions to discuss the plan’s impact on conservation lands.

There is a citizens’ petition asking for a special town meeting to vote on the pipeline, but selectmen said it can’t be held soon, because it must be held at least 60 days before or after a regular town meeting, and the town Deliberative Session is Feb. 4.

If the task force can gather enough information within 90 days, that could be a good time to hold the meeting for residents “to tell us what they want us to do,” D’Angelo said.

Intervener status

Selectmen have prepared an article proposed for the March 10 town warrant that would give Amherst officials intervener status, which D’Angelo said “would strengthen our hand” when dealing with state and federal agencies that have the ultimate say on the pipeline.

Selectmen also emphasized that they have no direct say over whether or where the pipeline will be built.

“It’s not our decision” – it’s the decisions of state and federal agencies, and “it’s incumbent on us to do the right kinds of analysis, for Amherst and for its sister communities,” said Mike Akillian.

It’s important to have facts, and the right kind of facts, when presenting the town’s case, he said, and the task force should learn “what facts mean the most to the state and federal regulators.”

Along with McCool and Jon Michael Vore of Simeon Wilson Road, several residents of Patricia Lane, near the pipeline route were at the meeting asking questions and expressing concerns.

Some said there is talk of a liquified natural gas plant, and D’Angelo said he thought the chance of one built around here
is zero.

Resident also said they are unhappy that no Kinder Morgan open house is planned for Amherst. The nearest one is in Milford, at the Hampshire Dome on Jan. 27.

Under the river

A major deviation to the pipeline route occurs in Amherst where it veers away from the high school and middle school and goes under the Souhegan River, north of the schools, then return to the power line corridor near the Merrimack town border.

In Merrimack it goes under the Merrimack River near the Anheuser-Busch plant.

The company operates about 50 miles of natural gas pipeline in New Hampshire and this newest preferred expansion 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 it heads south to Dracut, Mass.

At the Jan. 5 selectmen’s meeting, McCool said that according to Kinder Morgan 66 people will be affected by the pipeline, but as he gathered petition signatures in town, he said, it was evident that “there are hundreds of people who feel they will be impacted.”

“There is a wealth, an absolute overabundance of information about Kinder Morgan and its pipelines and their impact on this country, the environment, property values,” McCool said.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has cited Kinder Morgan for safety violations numerous times, he said, including failure to adequately monitor pipeline corrosion levels and failure to test pipeline safety devices.

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