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Proposed Mass. Pipeline Sees Criticism

Windsor, Mass. — A proposal to build a new pipeline carrying natural gas is stirring criticism in Massachusetts, where more than a dozen towns near the potential path of the 250-mile line have passed resolutions against the project.

The plan, which calls for expanding a pipeline system that already stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast, stems in part from a push by the six New England governors to boost the region’s supply of natural gas.

A section of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline already enters the state at the New York line and runs along the edge of southern Massachusetts. The proposal by pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Energy Services of Texas calls for a new section to be built along the northern part of the state, ending in Dracut, north of Boston, where it would connect with a network of transmission lines owned by other companies.

Opponents have raised concerns about potential risks to the environment, including state forests and wildlife management areas, as well as the effects of the hydraulic-fracturing, or fracking, used elsewhere to extract gas by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.

On May 19, the Berkshire Hills town of Windsor became the 14th municipality in the state to vote against pipeline-related projects after surveyors requested access to residents’ properties as part of the siting process.

Most of the votes were nonbinding resolutions approved by residents, although the City Council in Northampton approved an anti-pipeline measure on May 15. Deerfield officials passed a resolution on April 28 denying access to town-owned land for project surveyors.

“We’ve got to be the squeaky wheel,” said Janet Bradley, a retired high school environmental science teacher in Windsor, who said she is concerned about the possibility of accidental releases of gas or chemicals. She said the municipal votes likely won’t do much to stop the project — jurisdiction lies with the federal government — but she hopes they send a message to officials and utility executives.

A spokesman for Kinder Morgan, Richard Wheatley, said planners attempt to be as environmentally friendly as possible when routing the pipeline. About 37 percent of Massachusetts property owners contacted for land surveys have given their permission, according to Kinder Morgan.

The opponents include comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, who own hundreds of acres protected by the Franklin Land Trust in Shelburne Falls. The couple, who began buying land in the area in the 1970s, denied a request to survey for the pipeline on their land. Their agent, David Brokaw, said they are concerned about toxic waste and potential damage to wetlands.

The multibillion-dollar project would require public hearings and approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The proposal came about after the six New England governors asked last year for grid operator ISO-New England to consider strategies to deliver more electricity, especially during peak usage periods.

Massachusetts relies heavily on natural gas. A report issued by the New England Gas-Electric Focus Group in March, in which ISO participated, said more than 50 percent of New England’s electricity needs are now generated with natural gas, compared with 15 percent in 2000. In Massachusetts, only about 9.3 percent of net electricity generation comes from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Pipeline opponents say the state should instead focus on efficiency programs and developing renewable energy sources.