State makes deal with Tenn. Gas on pipeline

State makes deal with Tenn. Gas on pipeline

The state has reached a $640,000 settlement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. for state forest land in the Berkshire County town of Sandisfield where the company plans to build its Connecticut Expansion natural gas pipeline project.

The compensation package for an easement acquired by eminent domain through Otis State Forest was announced Thursday by Attorney General Maura Healey and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton.

The project, approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, extends Tennessee Gas’ existing gas pipeline infrastructure in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“This settlement sets a very high bar for the value of conservation land taken by eminent domain in Massachusetts,” said Healey. “We work hard to protect conservation land across our state, and we are pleased that this settlement requires Tennessee Gas to provide important mitigation relief during the construction of the project and assure no net loss of critical conservation land in the area.”

As part of the settlement, Tennessee Gas will pay $300,000 to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to identify and acquire additional conservation land in the vicinity that provides ecological functions equivalent to the land impacted by the pipeline. Another $300,000 will go toward mitigation and improvements to Otis State Forest, including $60,000 for recreational improvements. The remaining $40,000 is for the fair market value of pipeline easements.

Most of the money stems from mitigation costs that DCR determined to be appropriate following a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review of the project in the fall of 2015, the agencies said.

The company was also required to pay an estimated $640,000 for environmental monitors and other mitigation, bringing the total value of the settlement to more than $1.2 million.

In May, Berkshire Superior Court granted Tennessee Gas temporary construction easements and a permanent, 6-acre pipeline easement through Otis State Forest by eminent domain as authorized by the federal Natural Gas Act. Under Article 97 of state Constitution, the Legislature must approve any easement through protected conservation land. The company, which plans to add four miles of new underground pipeline for the project, nearly two miles of which will be constructed in the forest, directly adjacent to TGP’s two existing underground gas pipelines, sought the eminent domain because the Legislature did not vote to authorize the easement.

The decision by Berkshire Superior Court, over strong opposition by the AG’s office, ruled that the Natural Gas Act pre-empts Article 97 and the pipeline easements were granted.

Kathryn Eiseman, president of PipeLine Awareness Network for the Northeast, which has opposed the project and has been among groups opposing any taking of Article 97 lands, said Wednesday, “While we like to think of the Attorney General as ‘the People’s lawyer,’ her office made clear to us early on that they considered DCR to be their client in this case. And DCR’s marching orders from (Gov.) Charlie Baker seem to be that his energy combo platter is more important than our constitution and the natural treasures of our commonwealth.”

“The idea that the land can simply be replaced with another acquisition is extremely troubling,” Eiseman added. “This protected land is not fungible. It was protected for a reason.”

Author: Richie Davis for The Recorder

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