PEPPERELL -- Residents from around the region are bracing themselves for a fight against a proposed natural-gas pipeline, vowing to write letters, initiate a sign campaign and vote out any elected officials who support the pipeline.
More than 200 people from Pepperell, Townsend, Groton, Dracut and other affected communities gathered at the Pepperell Senior Center May 7 for an information session hosted by Nashoba Conservation Trust to discuss a gas pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company that would run from Wright, N.Y. to Dracut.
"It is our responsibility and our duty to be able to speak up about this," said Ken Hartlage, president of NCT.
During a public comment period, several residents did just that, voicing concerns about the effects the pipeline would have on their property and the environment and questioning the lack of action from some towns.
Pepperell resident Phil Durno urged residents to vote out officials who support the pipeline, and to write letters to those in authority.
"That's where our power is -- at the election polls. We still have that power," Durno said.
Others have already taken steps toward getting the word out.
In Townsend, Emily Norton, who co-founded conservation organization Friends of Willard Brook, said she had already ordered 225 yard signs saying "Protect our commonwealth -- stop the pipeline," and scheduled viewings of a fracking documentary to inform citizens.
"The conservation land, it's sacrilegious actually to put the pipeline through them, but it's sacrilegious to put it through any place, and that's got to be the message from us," Norton said.
She said that the pipeline could prevent people from moving into town or from taking trips to Townsend to visit conservation land.
"One of Townsend's riches is at risk, so our economic future is also at risk from this," Norton said.
Some questioned the lack of a response from Pepperell selectmen about the pipeline.
Selectmen have said that they would not make any decisions until after a meeting with representatives from Kinder Morgan, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s parent company.
In his presentation, Hartlage identified several concerns that residents had brought to him, many of which were later echoed by audience members. He said residents are concerned about their rights as homeowners, potential tax increases to pay for the pipeline, damage to natural resources and habitats, compromising of the town and regional character, safety, insurance costs, declining property values, future pipeline expansion and electricity rates.
Pepperell resident Denene Premus, who has been approached by Kinder Morgan to have her land surveyed, discussed many of their concerns.
After discussing Kinder Morgan's responsibility to its stockholders, she held up a photo of her children.
"These are my stockholders. These are the people I answer to," Premus said.
She later added, "We're all stockholders in Pepperell. We're all stockholders in Massachusetts and in the surrounding communities."
In response to a question about what the towns could do to oppose the pipeline, energy and environmental lawyer Don McCauley said that standing together is critical.
"It's absolutely vital that the towns be united and citizens be united and that people act together in unison in doing this in a measured way, but in a very firm way, that this is an unacceptable environmental cost for an investment when we can meet those needs in a different way," McCauley said.
Hartlage urged consideration of both alternative-energy measures and energy-reduction initiatives as preferable alternatives to the pipeline.
"Massachusetts has been a leader in it (energy reduction), but maybe they need to step up to the plate and invest more in this," Hartlage said.