WINCHESTER — A recent federal filing by the developer of a controversial pipeline reveals the firm considered putting a vital piece of the project in Winchester, although it’s unclear whether that option’s still on the table.
And as a federal commission considers the need for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, local residents say recent problems with the commission’s website have shut them out of the decision-making process.
Commission officials announced Monday afternoon they’d give those residents and others more time to comment on the project.
The high-pressure transmission line would carry fracked natural gas from the shale fields in Pennsylvania to eastern Massachusetts via New York, western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
It’s slated to pass through 19 municipalities in New Hampshire, including the Cheshire County communities of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
In the filing, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, which is proposing the pipeline, shows it had considered building a compressor station near a Winchester conservation area called Pulpit Falls.
Compressor stations help transport natural gas and keep it properly pressurized.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline has proposed having one of two regional compressor stations in Northfield, Mass. It listed Winchester as the only alternative town in its Dec. 30 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say over whether to approve the pipeline project.
The company picked three spots in Winchester, all near Pulpit Falls, that could house the compressor station.
The likelihood of any of those places being chosen in the end, though, is hard to say, because Tennessee Gas steered the pipeline route away from Pulpit Falls at the request of town officials who were concerned about the environmental effects on the property.
The second regional compressor station is planned for New Ipswich. The other options for that station are in Greenville and Mason. Between the three towns, Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials noted nine alternative sites for the station, starting at the New Ipswich-Rindge border and traveling east into Greenville and Mason.
Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s parent company, has not said whether any of the alternative sites for the compressor stations, such as Winchester, Greenville and Mason, are still in the running.
The current pipeline route is still under review by FERC, according to Tiffany Eddy, spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan.
“We have identified a preferred route and discussed our preferred route versus alternative routes in the docket,” she said Monday. “If we have additional information, we will file it with FERC as part of the docket.”
In their latest filing, Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials also submitted maps and explanations of three alternative routes for the pipeline itself. Those routes would move the pipeline entirely out of New Hampshire and to other Northeast states.
Meanwhile, several people seeking to file online comments and motions to intervene in the regulatory process have been unable to do so because the FERC website has been down during two consecutive weekends.
A person or group allowed by the federal agency to intervene becomes a participant in the FERC proceedings, and has the right to request a rehearing of commission orders, according to the federal agency.
Susan L. Durling, co-founder of Winchester Pipeline Awareness, said Sunday that Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s Dec. 30 filing was the first she’d heard about the possibility of a compressor station in Winchester. But she said she’s not surprised company officials considered building a station near Pulpit Falls.
She also wouldn’t be surprised if some residents and town officials are hurt by the news that Pulpit Falls is still listed as a potential host to part of the project, after they got Tennessee Gas to move the pipeline’s preferred route through the conservation area last year.
Durling’s daughter, Sarah Lounder, also a co-founder of the Winchester pipeline opposition group, said regardless of the new information, she plans to continue fighting for the “rights of private landowners and the safety of everyone who will be hurt if this comes through.
“These compressor stations will affect the health of Cheshire County residents. Education on this issue is our best defense,” she said.
Many residents and local officials in the southwestern New Hampshire towns in the pipeline’s proposed path strongly oppose it, citing, among other concerns, the possible environmental and health effects, and the potential for the federal government to take property for the project by eminent domain.
Proponents, including Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials, have touted the $5.2 billion project as a way to reduce high electricity and natural gas costs in New England and the Northeast, especially in the winter, and to help prevent an energy shortage in the region.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials filed the project’s application in November with FERC, which has the power to approve or reject the pipeline. Company officials have asked the commission to approve the project by the fourth quarter of 2016.
In December, Eric J. Tomasi, an environmental project manager with FERC, sent a letter to Tennessee Gas Pipeline asking company officials to provide additional information about the alternatives they considered for the pipeline route.
In addition, Tomasi requested Tennessee Gas Pipeline “Consider and fully evaluate utilizing the site alternatives” it included in the FERC application for the proposed compressor stations in New Ipswich and Northfield, Mass. He also asked the company to look into “any other viable site alternatives that Tennessee Gas may develop independently.”
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials responded to Tomasi’s request with the Dec. 30 filing, and also explained why they chose the route through New Hampshire as the best one for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. The other three routes considered would go through New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
As Tennessee Gas has made its federal filings, complaints skyrocketed on social media during the New Year’s weekend about people being unable to file motions to intervene in the FERC process before Wednesday’s deadline because the federal agency’s website had been down that weekend and the weekend before.
The reason, according to a notice on the FERC website, was because of inclement weather.
“Most ordinary citizens trying to engage in the FERC process rely on the availability of the online system on weekends and after hours,” Kathryn R. Eiseman, president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, a pipeline opposition group, said Sunday in an email.
More than six independent workshops were set up across New Hampshire and Massachusetts over the weekend to help people file online before the FERC deadline, and yet they weren’t able to register with the automated system, she said.
“Extending the deadline for at least another week would be totally appropriate, given the circumstances, and we encourage people to reach out both to FERC and to their legislators so that they are not left feeling shut out of the process,” she said.
FERC responded to the outcry, and staff issued a notice Monday afternoon extending the comment and intervention deadline to Jan. 15 to provide “additional time for those who may have been inconvenienced” to file.
“Due to an inadvertent error, during December 24-27, 2015 and December 31, 2015-January 3, 2016, those seeking to use eFiling and eComment on www.ferc.gov were unable to do so,” the notice said.
(c)2016 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)
This article was written by Meghan Foley from The Keene Sentinel, N.H. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.