By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Selectmen are pledging to fight against Kinder Morgan's proposal to run a 129-mile natural-gas pipeline through the region, saying the town and surrounding communities must band together to force the company to look for alternative routes.
"This is the easiest decision I have ever had to make as a selectman," Selectman Stuart Schulman said Monday night, as he voted with the rest of his board to oppose the project.
Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline, are interested in bulldozing through the northern part of the state instead of along the highways or the existing pipelines because of the cost, Schulman speculated. "It's pathetically simple," Schulman said of the reason why he thinks the company chose the particular route. "We have to do everything we can to stop it."
"I see no benefit to the residents of Groton," Selectman Jack Petropoulos agreed. "So, I flatly oppose it."
The board's unanimous decision to fight Kinder Morgan's Northeast Direct Energy Project and to join the Middlesex County Coalition of Towns against the Proposed Pipeline followed Kinder Morgan's two-hour informational session on the proposal on Monday night at Lawrence Academy. This was the first meeting of the kind in Groton that involved representatives from the gas-transportation giant.
According to Allen Fore, director of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, the pipeline will be extended from New York to Dracut to bring shale gas developed in Pennsylvania and New York areas.
Kinder Morgan plans to submit a "pre-filing" document with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in October with the actual filing anticipated in September 2015. If everything goes smoothly for the company, the new gas pipeline would be in operation in November 2018.
Fore explained the existing pipelines in the southern parts of the state are at their capacity and that New England needs more natural gas. During the meeting, however, residents Jim O'Reilly and John Giger pointed out that Kinder Morgan has yet to secure purchase contracts for the gas to be carried through the proposed pipeline. Fore said talks for potential contracts have been taking place for a number of years.
But "the last winter brought the attention (about the need for additional gas) to a much higher level," Fore said, adding that the company won't build the pipeline if it turns out it has no signed contracts before filing for the permit.
Resident Becky Pine asked why the company is most interested in the proposed route instead of running it along highways. Fore noted that such a proposal would require the state to provide easement. Fore added, however, that the company has looked at the option and it would have to show some alternative routes to FERC as part of the permitting process.
Fore and Mark Hamarich, project manager for Kinder Morgan, said that the company has considered other routes but the areas along the existing pipelines have been developed for housing since the pipeline was installed 50 years ago and it would be too difficult to run a new one. Hamarich also noted that the proposed route would be most "feasible," prompting some members of the audience to shout that the company perhaps sees it as the "cheap" route.
After the informational session, Selectman Peter Cunningham and Selectman Anna Eliot said that it was still not clear to them why Kinder Morgan is calling the local route their "preferred route." All selectmen also expressed dissatisfaction with Kinder Morgan's explanations about the project in general.
Before Kinder Morgan's meeting, selectmen met to discuss some other issues. The board voted to ratify the tentative contract with Steele McCurdy, officially making him Groton's fire chief. The vote was 4-0 with Eliot abstaining. Eliot did not explain the reason for abstaining, and refused to explain despite repeated requests to offer a reason both during and after the meeting.
McCurdy was initially the board's second choice for the job, but was offered it last week after its first choice, Robert Hart, deputy chief in Acton, declined for personal reasons.
McCurdy, presently deputy fire chief for Littleton, is expected to start his new job on Aug. 14, selectmen said. His first-year salary will be $98,880.
After Kinder Morgan's meeting, selectmen also selected Schulman and Dennis Eklof, a Groton resident and an energy-industry expert, as the board's representatives to the Middlesex County Coalition of Towns against the Proposed Pipeline. The town of Pepperell had asked if Groton wanted to join the coalition, selectmen said.