By RICHIE DAVIS
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
(Published in print: Wednesday, January 6, 2016)
The long-term and short-term impacts of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct project in Franklin County are “profound,” the Franklin Regional Council of Governments writes in one of hundreds of intervention applications submitted this week to federal regulators.
The COG’s application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was submitted along with ones from Franklin Land Trust, Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, Ashfield’s Planning Board, Historical Commission, Water District and Selectboard, the Massachusetts and Northfield Historical Commissions, Deerfield Academy and Nolumbeka Project, as well as the Town of Wendell, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and four Essex County legislators, among many other municipalities, nonprofits and individuals.
FERC on Monday extended its deadline for intervention applications from today to Jan. 15, after a series of technical glitches shut down the online portal between Christmas Eve and the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Intervention status allows full participation in the proceedings for TGP’s proposal to build a 412-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania shale gas fields to Dracut, north of Lowell. The path for the pipeline would extend through Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick.
State Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Paul Mark, D-Peru, said they also plan to apply for intervenor status in the NED process.
Six public and roughly 250 private drinking water supplies, more than 1,700 acres of permanently protected open space, 2,893 acres of farmland, forestland, as well as 2,731 acres with rare, threatened and endangered species could be directly affected by the proposed pipeline, the Franklin COG says in its letter, as well as more than 700 homes and businesses within a quarter-mile of the route.
Many of the concerns raised by the COG are echoed in similar intervention applications filed by towns along the route, along with their planning boards and conservation commissions.
Above-ground parts of the project, such as a compressor station planned for Northfield, would further increase the affected natural resource areas, claims the application, which also points to fire-safety concerns among towns with volunteer departments, the impact to local roads and bridges, and the extent to which “serious public health and Environmental Justice issues” would affect poor and minority populations, especially in northern Deerfield, western Erving, Montague and the northern portion of Northfield.
“It is clear,” it says, “that there will be impacts to Franklin County’s natural resources, infrastructure and ability to adequately protect public safety.”
The letter, signed by COG Executive Committee Chairman Bill Perlman, argues that the NED project is not needed, pointing to a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and to studies by DOE and FERC itself.
Because the company has failed to demonstrate sufficient need for NED to justify either “the substantial adverse impacts to the environment and communities, or the taking of private and municipally owned property and state constitutionally protected parklands … the Commission should find that the project will not serve the ‘present or future convenience or necessity, and deny the application,” it says. At a minimum, it says FERC must hold a hearing to judge whether there is a need for the project.
Arguing that TGP’s application relies on “‘desktop’ data” with resource impacts “significantly underestimated,” the COG points to information missing in its analysis of alternative routes about vernal pools, minor stream crossings, public water recharge areas and permanently protected open space.
“Approximately 11,000 acres of land will be disturbed by the project, yet …. the proponent states that ‘the cumulative effect on groundwater, surface water, sensitive waters and wetlands resources will be temporary and minor,” it concludes. And it adds that TGP’s submitted information, “both deficient in terms of data” will preclude a detailed analysis of the project’s cumulative effect unless they are corrected.
“This is especially critical in Franklin County where the proposed pipeline crosses large tracts of undeveloped, unfragmented landscape,” it says.
The letter also points as “troubling” TGP’s language that its Wright, N.Y. to Dracut segment is largely “co-located” along transmission line right of way, when only 20 feet of NED’s proposed 50-foot right of way would overlap with the existing utility easement, with the centerline expected to be 5 feet outside the utility right of way.
“Additional construction work will further impact environmental resources, and TGP states … that the centerline may move further out, given ongoing discussions with the electric utility.”
It points to potential insurance premium hikes to landowners along or near the route, as well as to municipalities, as well as to potential safety issues, and adds that its comments are based on only preliminary review of TGP’s application, which will now undergo an environmental impact review by FERC as well as Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act’s unit.
You can reach Richie Davis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.