RICHMOND — Selectmen say a change in the proposed route of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through their town wasn’t at their request, despite paperwork filed with a federal agency last week that says otherwise.
Board Chairwoman Carol Jameson submitted a letter to the editor Tuesday saying the rerouting of miles of the natural gas transmission through the town wasn’t made to “accommodate town and regulatory agency requests,” but rather at the request of a private landowner who was able to negotiate the change with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC.
Richmond selectmen object to the change, which has put the pipeline closer to residential areas; before, it went through vacant logging land, she wrote.
It also puts the line next to Brickyard Brook on the east side of Scott Mountain and through a historic area, she said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. The original route had it on the west side.
“In terms of public impact, this is much, much worse. None of us wanted this,” she said. “We wanted them to stick with the original route.”
The original route had the pipeline crossing Route 119 in Winchester, and then heading north to the high-tension power lines. At the power lines, the pipeline would turn east around the town line and then enter Richmond.
The new route has the pipeline crossing Route 119 and then turning east to follow Turnpike Road into Richmond. Once over the town line, the pipeline travels northeast, connecting with the utility corridor just west of Brickyard Brook.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, has proposed building the high-pressure pipeline to carry fracked natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania through upstate New York, parts of northern Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire before going to a distribution hub in eastern Massachusetts. The route would cross about 70 miles of southern New Hampshire, including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
The project had been in the pre-filing stages with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the past year, and continues to meet strong resistance from residents and local officials in the southwestern New Hampshire towns slated to be in its path. Their concerns range from the potential environmental and health effects that the high-pressure transmission pipeline could cause to concerns about the federal government taking property by eminent domain for the project.
On Nov. 20, Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials filed the project’s application with the FERC, putting the federal agency in a position to decide whether the pipeline is approved.
In the filing, company officials described the pipeline as “transformative,” saying the influx of natural gas into the Northeast, specifically New England, would drive down high winter energy costs, and help prevent an energy shortage in the region.
The more than 21,000-page application detailed Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s plan to build the pipeline, how its staff planned to minimize land and environmental impacts during and after construction, building techniques, the need for the pipeline and its exact route.
The document also contained a statement that approximately 7 miles of pipeline in Richmond had been rerouted since the company made its environmental resource filing in July. The change, as well as a reroute of the pipeline in Amherst “were included to accommodate alternate routing requests from local and regulatory agencies,” according to Tennessee Gas.
Jameson said in an email Tuesday night that selectmen first learned that the original route faced changes in August when some angry residents showed up at a meeting.
According to minutes from the Aug. 10 meeting, one of the residents, John Macdonald, said he had received a map showing a change from the original route from his neighbor, who had received it from someone who tried to survey his land.
At the time, the new route had the pipeline traveling farther to the east of the most recent route that Tennessee Gas Pipeline filed last week, which moves the pipeline a little bit away from residences on Scott Mountain Road, Jameson said Tuesday.
Following the meeting, Richmond Town Administrator Heidi Wood emailed Lucas S. Meyer, a public affairs consultant for Kinder Morgan, asking him for information about the reroute so that selectmen could present it to residents, according to documentation provided to The Sentinel by the Richmond Board of Selectmen.
Meyer responded by email the next day saying the reroute primarily impacts Winchester, but three Richmond property owners had been contacted about it.
“Kinder Morgan and Tennessee Gas are in the process of identifying landowners, analyzing the constructability and will be producing more detailed mapping to provide to the town,” he wrote.
Jameson said she spoke to Meyer by phone a few days later, and he told her the route had been changed at the request of Stone Mountain LLC.
The company is registered in Delaware, and has a principal office address in Stamford, Conn., according to documents filed with the N.H. Secretary of State Corporation Division.
Richard N. Wheatley, spokesman for the Northeast Energy Direct project, said in an email Wednesday that the route change included in the FERC application was made possible as a result of a landowner negotiation.
“The modification for the proposed right of way is all on Stone Mountain property, with exception of one new parcel and the landowner,” he said. “The parcel does not have a home on it. The proposed reroute results in fewer impacts than the previous route (off of Stone Mountain) that had been under study.”
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials are also evaluating an additional reroute in Richmond in response to letters submitted to FERC about the pipeline crossing Goss Woods, and moving it farther away from Sandy Pond and Our Lady of Hope, he said.
Landowners with property in the pipeline’s proposed path can open negotiations with Tennessee Gas Pipeline to have the pipeline moved off his or her property, Wheatley said.
“As we have said all along since this project was announced, we are always open to discussing proposed routing with landowners, local officials and other project stakeholders in order to understand and address issues that are specific to private and publicly owned properties,” he said. “This can occur as we seek permissions to survey properties, or at other times, such as at community presentations and town hall meetings, as we begin notifying and contacting stakeholders — including affected landowners — about a project.”
However, opening negotiations “does not necessarily mean a proposed right of way can be modified or rerouted,” he said.
In response to the route change proposed in August, Jameson said, the selectmen sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to include as part of the comments for the pre-filing process. Similar letters were also sent to Kinder Morgan and some state and federally elected officials, she said.
In the letter to FERC, selectmen wrote it was “extremely disturbing to hear — that a private land owner can negotiate with Kinder Morgan to reroute a pipeline through residences and emergency exit routes instead of unoccupied logging land.
“This proposed reroute is clearly against the public interest,” they said.
This article was written by Meghan Foley from The Keene Sentinel, N.H. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.