Deerfield to pipeline co.: Don’t tread on us

DEERFIELD — Local police will be used to protect property owners who refuse to allow Kinder Morgan pipeline surveyors or any other agency or individual onto their land with or without an order from the state Department of Public Utilities.

Kinder Morgan, which plans a natural gas pipeline through eight Franklin County towns, including Deerfield, has asked the DPU to force property owners along the route to allow surveyors on the land.

In a letter submitted into the public record at the DPU, Deerfield states its Board of Health has forbidden within the town all activities of Kinder Morgan and will enforce this order. Anyone entering onto private properties, without permission from the property owners, for activities related to the proposed natural gas pipeline will be arrested for trespassing, the selectmen have warned.

Kinder Morgan wants state authority to enter onto more than 400 private properties to conduct surveys for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.

Deerfield residents who choose to grant Kinder Morgan access to their private property do so at their own risk, according to selectmen. Cristobal Bonifaz, an attorney working for Deerfield in its opposition to the pipeline, helped draft the nine-page document and told The Recorder Thursday the risk in this case refers to any consequence of surveyors “fiddling around” on one’s land.

Bonifaz said Deerfield is prepared to supercede any state authority and have police officers arrest anyone who enters onto private property as part of the pipeline project.

Deerfield Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness described her board’s comments as a warning, a common courtesy, and a heads-up.

“A lot of times, state agencies don’t know what’s going on at the local level,” she said.

“After an exhaustive public-hearings process that started in August of 2014, we determined that Kinder Morgan and their operations are a threat to the residents of Deerfield.”

Ness said a cease-and-desist order was established in October 2014.

“The DPU has a job to do and I hope they are really willing to look at the big picture and what is to the benefit of western Mass.,” she said.

Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy corporation, announced in 2014 it plans to install a pipeline through the county. Numerous landowners who have property into proposed 30-inch-diameter, 416-mile pipeline’s path have denied Kinder Morgan access to their land in the two years since the project was announced.

The other Franklin County towns on the proposed route are Ashfield, Northfield, Erving, Montague, Conway, Shelburne, and Warwick.

The energy giant separately filed for permission to conduct civil, archaeological, cultural resources, wetlands and endangered/rare species surveys to support information in its pending application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the interstate transportation of natural gas. In response to Kinder Morgan’s requests, the DPU has slated a March 30 public hearing at Greenfield Middle School Auditorium. This is one of six hearings planned throughout the state.

In response to Deerfield’s action, Kinder Morgan asserted that the town was overstepping its authority.

“We are respectful of public and private property and landowners’ rights and do not conduct surveys or other activities without first obtaining advance permission from landowners or an order from an appropriate authority, including the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.” said Richard Wheatley, Kinder Morgan’s director of corporate communications/public affairs.

Kinder Morgan claims the federal Pipeline Safety Act preempts any state’s authority to regulate pipeline safety and certain state laws trump the town’s orders.

According to Katie Gronendyke, president at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in Boston, said it appears no other towns have filed comments in response to Kinder Morgan’s request to the DPU.

In is filing with the DPU, Deerfield selectmen, acting as the Board of Health, cited various violations and incidents involving Kinder Morgan pipelines across the nation over the years as reason for being fearful their pipeline in Deerfield would be a substantial health hazard to the town’s residents.

The health board said in its filing that “a corporation convicted of felonies resulting in the tragic deaths of five people presents an unreasonable risk to the health and lives of residents of Deerfield if such felon were to be allowed to build a massive fracked gas pipeline through the town.”

According to the comments, the transportation of fuels via pipeline is dangerous. The town cites 460 recorded accidents related to pipeline discharges of fuels in the United States from 2000 to 2009. The comments also cited seven Kinder Morgan leaks, ruptures or spills dating back to April 2004.

The comments also state FERC cannot prevent the Deerfield Board of Health from issuing regulations aimed at protecting the health and lives of residents when the issues are not environmental impacts. FERC was created by Congress to enforce the Natural Gas Act.

“(The) purpose of Congress in enacting the Natural Gas Act was to create (a) comprehensive and effective regulatory scheme, and to underwrite just and reasonable rates to consumers of natural gas,” the comments state. “(The) primary aim of (the) Natural Gas Act is to protect consumers against exploitation at (the) hands of natural gas companies.”

According to the company’s November filing with federal regulators for its 416-mile pipeline, from Pennsylvania hydrofracking fields to Dracut, north of Lowell, 62 percent of Massachusetts landowners along its path denied permission for access for surveying.

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257. On Twitter follow @DomenicPoli

Author: DOMENIC POLI Recorder Staff

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