PEPPERELL -- Representatives from Kinder Morgan fielded questions from a crowd of about 350 Monday night about a proposed natural-gas pipeline that could come through the area.
Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company is considering running a gas pipeline from Wright, N.Y, to Dracut
to expand natural-gas service in New England. Other affected communities in the region could include Ashby, Dunstable, Groton, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsboro and Wilmington.
Selectman Stephen Themelis took the strongest stand against the pipeline, saying that while he understood the need for energy in New England, he could not support it.
"As a selectman and as an elected official representing the town of Pepperell, I cannot in good conscience support a proposed gas pipeline route that would cause immeasurable emotional grief and anguish or financial loss or hardship for any of our residents," Themelis said.
Selectmen Chairman Michael Green said that while he was not in favor of the pipeline, he was looking for more information in order to be able to mitigate negative impacts.
"I do not want this pipeline through our town, but I understand that there is demand out there and I understand that it might be a reality for us. We're going to have to deal with some ugliness, and I want to do everything I can to reduce the impact to residents," Green said.
He asked that Kinder Morgan provide the town with a written explanation in the coming weeks of why alternatives, including routes along highways or expansion of an existing pipeline through southern Massachusetts, were not viable.
Kinder Morgan representative Allen Fore said that the preliminary route was based on many factors, and that regulatory approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would require Kinder Morgan to attempt to limit its environmental impact.
"At the end of the day, it's not our call. We'll propose something that we believe we can build, we believe we can get permitted and all of the environmental concerns are part of the permitting process," Fore said.
He stressed that the project was in the very early stages, and Kinder Morgan had not made any official decisions on whether to pursue the route.
Selectman Michelle Gallagher said it was too premature for her to give an opinion.
According to Fore, the pipeline would help to meet an energy "crisis" in New England, which he said was on display last winter when gas supply was low.
"There was a crisis in New England, there was a crisis in infrastructure, there was a crisis in supply," Fore said. "A crisis today is going to be a worse crisis tomorrow if it's not addressed."
The primary destination for the natural gas would be New England, Fore said, but some could potentially be exported. He did not say if the gas would directly serve residents along the pipeline route.
The company is currently in the process of seeking permission to survey the land of property owners along the proposed route. If permission is not granted, it could be gained through eminent domain, Fore said. He said the company typically takes easements, for which it pays the property owner a one-time payment.
During a public-comment period, residents raised concerns about the impacts to property values, disruption of conservation land, the possibility of a new tax to pay for the pipeline and the company's safety record.
Pepperell resident Nancy Fox spoke against the pipeline, echoing the concerns raised by many residents and saying that she saw no benefit to the town.
"I haven't heard anything yet to make it worth my while or anyone else's to give up what we love," Fox said.
Adam Lupino, a representative of the Laborers' International Union of North America's New England Regional office, said that he supports the pipeline on behalf of Fitchburg-based Laborers Local 39, due to the construction jobs the project would create for local residents.
"It's critical to our members. We've had a very difficult couple of years, and we think it will be important to the region's energy infrastructure in growing a source," Lupino said.
More than 165 residents signed a petition circulated by members of the Nashoba Conservation Trust that asked selectmen to support their stance against the pipeline.
Conservation Administrator Paula Terrasi said they need a total of 200 signatures to hold a Special Town Meeting to address the petition.