For the past year and a half, a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline through rural areas of Massachusetts and New Hampshire has stirred up controversy in the region. The Northeast Energy Direct pipeline would start in Pennsylvania and end in Dracut, Massachusetts. The company hoping to build it, Kinder Morgan, will formally submit its plan to federal regulators this fall, and the deadline for public comments on the project is the end of this month.
To gather public comments of his own, New England Public Radio's Henry Epp decided to hop in the car to take a road trip along the pipeline route.
I start on a dirt road in Stephentown, New York, near the Massachusetts border, where the pipeline would enter the Bay State. The road passes under large power lines that cut through the rolling, forested hills. For the most part, the pipeline would follow this corridor.
“As for the pink and purple colors of my house, that’s pure caprice,” Gordon says.Just past the power lines, I knock on the door of Albert and Judith Gordon. Their house stands out. It’s painted bright pink and purple, and the hay field behind it is dotted with sculptures. Albert is a retired art dealer.
Gordon says he and his wife moved here to be in a quiet, country setting. The pipeline would be adjacent to his property, and he does not want the disruption. Like many residents near the route, Gordon has been contacted by Kinder Morgan. They sent him a letter, requesting to survey his property.
“Here it is! Fat!” he says, showing me a stack of papers. I ask Gordon if he plans to voluntarily let Kinder Morgan onto his land.
“Absolutely not,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I’ll put every obstruction in their path.”
Gordon isn’t the only one refusing to let Kinder Morgan survey. It’s become a common tactic among those opposed to the project.
“We don’t know how often that would happen, we don’t know what kind of volume of gas would be released, and we don’t know what’s in the gas that would be released,” says Michelle Koelle. The compressor station would be near her organic farm, which she and her husband started two years ago, and she’s worried that the emissions will drive away customers. She’s also concerned how the noise of the station could affect the reproduction habits of her turkeys.I head east into the Berkshires, where my next stop is town hall in Windsor, Massachusetts – population 899 (according to the 2010 Census). The concern here is a bit more heightened. Windsor would be the site of a compressor station. That’s a facility that keeps the gas moving through the pipe, and it releases some emissions to regulate pressure.
“Turkeys are very finnicky the way the reproduce,” Koelle says.
Koelle also doesn’t think she can get a good deal on her property if she chose to sell.
“We’ve already seen parcels of land quite close to us being sold at significant discounts because of the fear of this compressor station,” Koelle says.
Property values, noise, environmental disturbances and pollution. Those are some of the concerns of opponents to this project. Opposition is visible along the pipeline route. The roads are dotted with “Stop the Pipeline” yard signs. But as I drive east out of Windsor, I see a sign that stands out. It reads “American Energy, American Jobs,” and it’s owned by Stu Sargent of Dalton, Mass. He’s a general contractor. Today he’s putting siding on a house. I meet him at his job site.
“You noticed my signs, huh?” he asks. Sargent says he’s frustrated by the way opponents have attempted to block Kinder Morgan. He thinks local leaders should be taking a different angle.
Sargent used to be on the Dalton Select Board, where he says he was in the minority in his support for the pipeline. He believes it’s an opportunity for the community: construction jobs, cheaper heating for local businesses. Sargent is also quick to point out that he’s not against renewables.“If we need a fire truck or training of our firemen or policemen in case there is an accident, any kind of accident, let’s get the pipeline people to pay for it,” Sargent says.
“I’ve got solar on my house,” he says. But solar can’t work all the time. “Think about it. This is New England. You have six months of sun, six months of snow. With the solar I have on my house, I do good in the summertime and I’m real happy, and in the wintertime, the sun’s not there.” That’s when natural gas becomes a necessity to heat his home.
I say goodbye to Stu Sargent and continue northeast into Northfield, Massachusetts – where another compressor station would go – up in a remote and hilly part of town. Here I meet Martha Rullman. Her log home is about a mile downhill from the proposed compressor site. There’s a rushing stream that circles around Rullman’s home.
“We’ll just kind of have to walk away from it now and call it a loss, and it’s not just a financial loss, it’s an emotional loss,” Rullman says. I ask if she’s thought about where she might go if she decides to move. “As far away from Northfield as possible,” she says.Rullman says she knows how sensitive the waterway is. She watched it turn thick and brown when some logging was done nearby a few years ago. How the compressor station might affect this stream is one factor that Rullman says makes her ready to pick up and leave her home of 25 years.
My last stop of the day is Erving, Massachusetts, in the kitchen of Joe Bucci, a lifelong resident. He’s not necessarily for the pipeline, but he’s willing to consider it.
“In terms of human dignity, I think that everybody has a right to the resources that are available from the earth,” Bucci says.
Bucci says he’s been frustrated by the tone of debate in Franklin County. Opponents, he says, have flooded out other voices. And the pipeline will affect everyone in the region.
“Some will see it as good, some will see it as bad, some won’t consider it at all, and that’s the sad thing. Because the people that don’t consider the ramifications of this are hindering the process,” Bucci says.
After 12 hours and close to 200 miles, it’s time to call it a day. I find a motel in Northfield. Tomorrow I’ll pick up and head north to New Hampshire for the rest of the pipeline road trip.I head out from Joe Bucci’s house around 8 p.m.