TOWNSEND -- Selectmen in Townsend voted unanimously Wednesday to not allow Kinder Morgan Energy Partners to survey town-owned land for a proposed natural-gas pipeline that would stretch across northern Massachusetts.
Selectmen Chairman Sue Lisio said the move was a largely symbolic gesture signifying the town's opposition to the project, which would run through town-owned conservation land if it continues along the proposed route.
The move came after a two-and-a-half hour meeting with representatives from Kinder Morgan. About 400 residents attended the meeting, and many voiced concerns about safety, the prospect of diminishing property values and the environmental impact of transferring gas that is extracted through hydraulic fracturing.
Lisio said she is most concerned with the potential for destruction of protected conservation land.
"The kinds of things that we try to protect and hold dear, once damaged are damaged. It's not a question of restoring that, it's a question of it's gone forever," Lisio said.
Selectman Carolyn Smart said after the meeting that she is concerned about the consequences for property owners along the pipeline route, as well as the environmental impacts.
"I'm opposed to the project and we've heard from a number of taxpayers that they're opposed to the project as well, and I'm here to represent them. I'm very concerned about the conservation land and the route, but more important is looking out for the best interests of the taxpayers," Smart said.
If Kinder Morgan chooses to pursue the project and receives approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the company could gain access to both town and privately owned land through eminent domain, even if the landowners deny permission. Property owners would be given monetary compensation for an easement on their land.
Kinder Morgan representative Allen Fore stressed that the project is still preliminary, and will only be pursued if contracts can be secured with local energy companies.
"It's not an 'if you build it they will come' project. It has to be secure financially and supported by market needs," Fore said.
He said that the route of the pipeline has not been finalized yet but that the company is trying to take landowner, environmental and cultural issues into account.
"We're trying to construct a project that we believe is needed in the region from an energy perspective and is the least impactful," he said.
Meeting local need through New England energy companies would be the "anchor" of the project, Fore said.
"As one of the major providers of natural gas to the region currently, we're responding to what we believe is a need for increased natural gas infrastructure," he said.
When asked why the new line couldn't be installed alongside an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline that runs through the southern part of the state, Fore said development that had sprung up around the pipeline would make it very difficult to build there.
Town positions on the project will be considered as the routing process is finalized, Fore said.
"We'll be taking that into account as we finalize our route. It doesn't mean we will not be in Townsend, but we will certainly take into account the position of the Board of Selectmen," Fore said.
The project would bring construction jobs to the state, he said, and provide millions in tax revenue for both the state and town governments.
During a question-and-answer period of more than an hour, residents raised issues about the possibility of gas leaks, diminished property values, higher insurance rates and impact on the water supply.
Townsend resident John King questioned how the town would benefit from the pipeline.
"It's going to happen whether we want it to or not, and it doesn't matter about our conservation land or an organic farm or anything else. It's how much money are you going to make by running your pipeline through Townsend. So my question is, what's in it for Townsend?" King asked.
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