TOWNSEND -- Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to join a coalition of Middlesex County towns to oppose a proposed natural-gas pipeline through the region.
The coalition was suggested by the Pepperell Board of Selectmen to fight installation of a pipeline that Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, and its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, have proposed to meet what they claim is a growing need for natural gas in New England. The pipeline would stretch from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, and would cut through both private property and town-owned conservation land if it follows the route that has been proposed.
Selectmen Chairman Sue Lisio said she strongly supported joining the coalition, in part because of the possibility that the cost of the pipeline could be passed on to ratepayers through a tariff without confirmation that the gas would benefit Townsend residents.
"I grew up back in the '60s. I do not believe in things that are inevitable," Lisio said. "I believe in grassroots. I believe that people need to be heard. I believe that people can organize and be heard, it's just a matter of how to do that."
Selectmen also commended Pepperell selectmen for taking the initiative to form the coalition.
"I think it's great. It's good that Pepperell is stepping up to the plate and organizing this," said Selectman Colin McNabb.
In a letter written by Pepperell Town Administrator John Moak on behalf of the board, Moak suggested that the coalition have its first meeting July 1 at 10 a.m., with a location to be determined after towns respond to the invitation.
The idea for the coalition came after a series of town meetings in Pepperell where hundreds of residents turned out, largely to voice opposition to the pipeline.
"The board is strongly committed to supporting actions that will secure the property values of our residents and prevent the compromising of conservation land and natural resources which appears to be inevitable in this current proposal," Moak wrote in the letter, referring to the position of the Pepperell Board of Selectmen.
Other towns that were invited to join the coalition were Ashby, Dracut, Dunstabble, Groton, Lowell, North Reading, Reading, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsboro and Wilmington, all of which are along the proposed pipeline path.
Lisio said she is hopeful that having the coalition in place will be the best way to represent the town's interests.
"This kind of formalizes it, and I think we need that formality in order to be taken seriously," Lisio said.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said that approach made more sense than trying to fight the pipeline alone.
"The towns stand the best chance of success if they band together," Sheehan said.
Representatives from Kinder Morgan will be giving a presentation on the pipeline in Townsend next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at North Middlesex Regional High School.
Prior to that meeting, selectmen will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. to address a citizens' petition asking that the town adopt a non-binding resolution opposing the pipeline.
The petition, which has been certified to have more than the 200 required signatures, forces selectmen to call a Special Town Meeting to address it.
"As residents of Townsend, we wish to express our firm opposition to the proposed pipeline route and wish to declare the right of the people to have the final say as to whether projects such as this one, which carry risks and threats and to our public safety, our environment, our economic well-being and our sense of community, proceed within our borders," the petition reads in part.