Published in the June 18, 2015 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Representatives from Kinder Morgan, the giant energy company that is planning a natural gas pipeline through North Reading, faced tough questioning from town and state officials and local residents at a public information session held Monday night.
Facing a crowd of about 50 residents and officials in the High School’s Distance Learning Lab, the Kinder Morgan representatives said the company is still in the process of determining the pipeline’s exact and final route and they don’t expect final answers and specific plans until later in the year.
The representatives, Steve Keady and Michael Lennon, also got an earful from concerned residents and town officials who questioned the company’s safety record, the effect of the pipeline on property values and the disruptive nature and long term safety of the pipeline and the fact that they know little more about the project now than when the pipeline was first announced 15 months ago.
In addition to the residents and town Selectmen, the meeting was attended by town planning and public safety officials as well as State Rep. Brad Jones Jr., Senator Bruce Tarr and a representative from Congressman Seth Moulton’s office.
Selectman Jeff Yull said the board’s role is to protect the property rights of the town’s citizens, the sovereignty of North Reading and that the environment is not compromised.
Keady, the company’s senior consultant for public affairs, and Lennon, the route’s right–of–way manager for the project, tried to explain the North Reading route and where the project stands at this point, which is the “pre–filing phase.”
Keady said Kinder Morgan hasn’t filed applications for state or federal permits yet. He said they anticipate doing so in the fourth quarter of 2015 but in the meantime they are still refining the route for the gas pipeline.
North Reading lies in the path of the projected Lynnfield Lateral pipeline, which will come out of Dracut, into Wilmington and across North Reading into Reading where it ties into an existing pipeline to service the local distributor, National Grid. For the majority of the route through North Reading, the pipeline will be “co–located” with the National Grid easement.
Until the final plan is determined, the company is working off a 400 ft. “study corridor” for the pipeline, with approximately 40 North Reading landowners (including the town) falling within that survey range. As the project is further vetted, he said, the permanent easement needed will shrink down to 50 feet and some of those landowners will drop out of the final scope of the project later this year.
Edward DeSousa, 2 Scotland Heights, challenged Kinder Morgan’s statements that the route had been changed based on consultation with landowners. “I was never consulted on that deviation and I don’t think anybody else on that street was.” DeSousa said the residents refused to give permission for the company to survey their property and now that deviation is going through some “huge” wetlands areas.
Selectman Stephen O’Leary asked pointed questions about the compensation National Grid will receive from Kinder Morgan for allowing the pipeline to co–locate on their easement, compared to what the residents and the town are being offered.
“Compared to the amount of revenue that will be generated by that pipeline, the proposed payments to impacted communities are a pittance,” O’Leary said.
Chairman Robert Mauceri focused on safety and the concerns of devalued property from those families that abut the pipeline.
Lennon said the company will pay “fair market value” for the 50 ft. easement and claimed the pipeline will not have an effect on property values.
Mauceri wasn’t buying it. “The fact that the pipeline is buried doesn’t mean someone will have the same property value when they go to sell’ in the future, he said. “How do they get compensated for their loss in value?”
Patty Woodbury, 7 Damon St. raised questions about the company’s safety record and the advisability of placing the gas in close proximity to the electric lines. She said her neighborhood was “harassed” by Kinder Morgan and a previous informational meeting was held “in the middle of a blizzard” that prevented representatives from FERC, (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), from attending.
CPC member Joe Veno asked what happens if private property owners refuse to grant permission for the pipeline to cross their land.
Kinder Morgan can’t force anyone to grant an easement, Lennon said. But in the fall the company intends to file an application and permits with FERC. This will result in a process in which the federal government has the authority to issue a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” that would allow the company to gain the easements they need.
Right now the company is talking in theoretical terms, said Lennon. As the process gets farther along and more information becomes available, the company will develop a route “that’s not as egregious as it looks to you folks.”
Rep. Jones asked about the Article 97 process, an obscure provision of the state constitution that prevents public lands like conservation and watersheds from being used for other purposes without two–third approval of the Legislature. North Reading has several such parcels.
Lennon said Kinder Morgan would have to go through a legislative process for an easement to be placed on those land. “That would be a process we would have to go through simultaneous to the federal permitting process.”
Sen. Tarr asked Lennon and Keady if all of the gas transported through the pipeline will be consumed by customers in New England or whether it will be sold to outside or even foreign markets
There’s no guarantee the gas will stay with local customers. Keady said Kinder Morgan “can’t discriminate” when it comes to customers. At the present time the company does not have any LNG customers, it’s all local New England customers committed to the pipeline, he said. “But we can’t discriminate based on where the gas is going to go,” he said.
The representative from Congressman Moulton’s office said their concern is that the process be as transparent as possible. When Selectmen closed the meeting, Keady and Lennon offered to continue the dialogue with residents out in the hall.