For Many Along Pipeline Route, An Issue Of Jobs, Environment And Money

Aug 28, 2015

 

Today we pick up the second leg of our road trip along the proposed route of a natural gas pipeline. The company Kinder Morgan wants to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania, through New York, western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Kinder Morgan will file their proposal with federal regulators this fall, and the deadline for public comments is on Monday.

PIPELINE ROAD TRIP PART 1: Along Kinder Morgan’s Proposed Route, A Fear Of Disaster — And Frustration With Debate’s Tone

Yesterday, I followed the line through the Berkshires and Franklin County, ending in Erving. Today we’ll double back for a bit.

 

Isaac Mass is a lawyer and town councilor in Greenfield, Mass.
Credit Henry Epp for NEPR

I start the day on main street in downtown Greenfield, Massachusetts, and head up to the offices of Isaac Mass. He’s a city councilor and lawyer in town. He won’t say if he supports the current route of the pipeline, but he does want to bring more natural gas to Franklin County. And he thinks the public debate over the pipeline has been pretty one-sided, in favor of the opposition.

“I think some people are scared into silence, even though they have a little more of an open mind,” Mass says. “People don’t come out and campaign for a corporation. That doesn’t happen.”I start the day on main street in downtown Greenfield, Massachusetts, and head up to the offices of Isaac Mass. He’s a city councilor and lawyer in town. He won’t say if he supports the current route of the pipeline, but he does want to bring more natural gas to Franklin County. And he thinks the public debate over the pipeline has been pretty one-sided, in favor of the opposition.

Mass says bringing more natural gas would boost what he sees as an economic opportunity for Franklin County, with a growing focus on advanced manufacturing.

But, he adds, “Businesses have difficulty expanding or relocating to Greenfield or Deerfield or Sunderland, if there’s no availability of natural gas.”

And right now, there’s a moratorium on new gas service in parts of Franklin and Hampshire counties. Utility Berkshire Gas says that will remain in place until the Kinder Morgan pipeline is built. So Mass says, that leaves businesses with a choice: truck-in liquefied natural gas or propane, or locate somewhere else.

Whether or not the pipeline comes, Mass says someone’s going to make a sacrifice.

“It could be the person who’s sacrificing their land and not getting compensated as well as they would have liked to,” Mass says. “Or it could be a guy who can’t get a job because a business can’t locate in Greenfield.”

I leave Greenfield, and head north into southwestern New Hampshire. Like much of the area around the proposed pipeline, this region is very rural, and mid-morning in the summer, it’s hard to find anyone at home willing talk to a stranger.

Eventually, I arrive in Rindge, New Hampshire, where I’d set up an interview with Maryann Harper. She’s been leading a local opposition group ever since Kinder Morgan announced its plan late last year to move a portion of the pipeline north from Massachusetts.

 

Maryann Harper is from Rindge, N.H.
Credit Henry Epp for NEPR

“We don’t need it, we don’t want it and we don’t want to pay for it,” Harper says. “And those are the three big things.”Eventually, I arrive in Rindge, New Hampshire, where I’d set up an interview with Maryann Harper. She’s been leading a local opposition group ever since Kinder Morgan announced its plan late last year to move a portion of the pipeline north from Massachusetts.

Is there more to her opposition or the opposition of others in this region than, not in my backyard?

“I get kind of offended by the NIMBY thing. NIMBY was a term that was coined in the 1980s,” she replies. “And if you look at the basis of it, it means that you want the item, [but] you just don’t want it near you. We don’t this at all, okay?”

Harper, like other opponents, is concerned about the source of the natural gas — from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Pennsylvania. Underlying the opposition of many is a concern about climate change. Harper says the usefulness of natural gas, a fossil fuel, doesn’t have a long future.

“It’s old technology,” Harper says. “We need to move away from this, and we are moving away from it.”

Harper says renewables, particularly solar, are the way of the future. And she dismisses Kinder Morgan’s arguments that the pipeline would help lower heating and electricity costs for New Englanders.

Harper is also concerned about the power of eminent domain, which Kinder Morgan could be eligible for if it gets federal approval.

“If a private company wants to put in a project, just like if somebody wants to put a Walmart here in town, they need to negotiate the land,” she says. “Some people will sell, some people won’t. And we should have the right to say, ‘No.’ I don’t think that there’s any public good that’s being served by this, which is what eminent domain is for.”

The pipeline is certainly not seen as a public good at a farm in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. It’s the home of Emily Chetkowski and her partner George, who run Villi Poni Farm, a sanctuary for rare Newfoundland ponies. Chetkowski says there are 250 of this breed in the world; 10 of them are here.

 

Emily Chetkowski breeds horses in New Ipswich, N.H.
Credit Henry Epp for NEPR

There’s a flare up when one of the stallions sees a mare in a separate cage. But let me tell you, they’re incredibly friendly.The pipeline is certainly not seen as a public good at a farm in New Ipswitch, New Hampshire. It’s the home of Emily Chetkowski and her partner George, who run Villi Poni Farm, a sanctuary for rare Newfoundland ponies. Chetkowski says there are 250 of this breed in the world; 10 of them are here.

One of the ponies licks my microphone.

A few months ago, Chetkowski found out Kinder Morgan proposed a compressor station less than a mile away. Because of that, she says, she’s not breeding any new animals right now. Like others we heard from yesterday, Chetkowski is concerned about what’s in the emissions released from the compressor station, and whether it could explode.

“We’re stuck here, because nobody is going to buy this place, and we have nowhere to go,” Chetkowski says. “And what are my choices? So Kinder Morgan needs to talk to us and mitigate the situation. I don’t know what the answer is, but we can’t risk 10 of 250. We can’t. We just can’t do it.”

The issue of how neighbors are compensated or bought out will likely grow if the pipeline is approved, though the project isn’t scaring everyone off.

In Londonderry, New Hampshire, I go to a brand new housing development — a “55-plus” community with homes still being built.

“They’re quite expensive. And what I mean by that is that they’re in the $400-500,000 range,” explains Martin Piekos. He’s the last person I speak to on this trip.

Piekos says he bought his home here before he knew a natural gas pipeline might go in less than a quarter mile away. He says he’s undecided about the line, but he doesn’t mind it being in his backyard.

“But I would like to benefit from it being in my own backyard. I would like to see my gas rates stay low and my energy costs stay low,” he says.

Martin Piekos lives in Londonderry, N.H.
Credit Henry Epp for NEPR

  Piekos says he bought his home here before he knew a natural gas pipeline might go in less than a quarter mile away. He says he’s undecided about the line, but he doesn’t mind it being in his backyard.

Piekos says he has to trust that federal regulators will keep a close eye on the project. He also speaks from personal experience. He says he worked at a chemical company.

“That’s all I heard the last five years of my working career, was ‘safety, safety, safety, safety,'” Piekos says.

And he hopes Kinder Morgan has that same focus. Piekos is running late to meet some visitors, so we say goodbye.

It’s evening now, and I drive to the end of the pipeline in Dracut, Massachusetts. At a dead end in the back of a winding suburban street, my GPS says I’ve reached the closest point I can get to the end of the pipeline. So I start walking, until I’m standing in the woods in Dracut, Mass., right near the proposed end of the pipeline.

I’ve heard from a lot of different people on this trip, a lot of differing opinions about what this  project means for the region and for the people and for the environment. A lot of questions remain unanswered from the company, Kinder Morgan. We’ll have a chance to ask a representative of the company some of those questions tomorrow.