GROTON -- Representatives from towns throughout Middlesex County are looking for answers on a proposed natural-gas pipeline through the region, and they're banding together to get them.
Selectmen, town managers and residents from nine towns gathered in Groton Tuesday morning for the first meeting of a coalition of Middlesex County towns along the proposed pipeline route. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the company that would build the pipeline, has said the project would help meet a need for natural gas in New England.
The group spent much of the meeting discussing a mission statement, which they hope to adopt at their next meeting after more revision. An early draft of the statement discussed representing the towns to government agencies and legislators on the need for energy, alternatives to the proposed route and costs, both financial and environmental, to the communities affected.
Though the coalition was initially recommended by Pepperell selectmen as a way to oppose the pipeline, many members expressed opposition to adopting a mission statement that was openly opposed to the pipeline. Instead, many suggested, they should focus on information-gathering and educating their communities, as well as representing the towns' interests.
Selectman Scott Wilson of Tewksbury said that not adopting an opposition stance in the mission statement would mean more communities would be likely to participate.
"I think we're stronger collectively, so the more communities that we can get together, the stronger voice we're going to have," Wilson said.
Others, including representatives from Tyngsboro and Wilmington, said their towns are still looking to get information before taking a strong stance.
"There's a desire to participate in a coalition, but a hesitation to participate in a coalition whose active core focus is opposition," said Tyngsboro Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto.
Glen Edwards, assistant town manager in Dracut, said selectmen are interested in the coalition because they aren't getting the information they are looking for from Kinder Morgan on their own.
"We want more information and we're not getting it. We're hoping with a coalition we might get a seat at the table," Edwards said.
Methods for stopping the project or changing its route were also briefly discussed.
Dennis Eklof, a Groton resident who was appointed by selectmen to serve on the coalition, said commissioning a study showing the need, or lack of need, for natural gas in New England could be the most effective way of deterring the project.
Beverly Woods, executive director of the North Middlesex Council of Governments, said that while a study would be powerful, it could take a year or more to be completed. Kinder Morgan is expected to file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September if they choose to pursue the route being analyzed.
Although rerouting the pipeline along a highway or other route is also an option the coalition is considering, Townsend Selectman Sue Lisio said she does not believe that simply going around the towns in the coalition is a viable option.
"I feel just as bad for my neighbor, so I don't think the solution is to push it to somebody else," Lisio said.
She said the communities should have some say on the project.
"We have a right to have a voice in what kind of energy we want to supply to our region, meaning the whole state and New England. I don't like them coming up with the solution without our input," Lisio said.
The coalition will meet next in Dunstable on July 14, where they are planning to adopt a mission statement and elect co-chairmen.
Towns that sent representatives Tuesday were Ashby, Dracut, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsboro and Wilmington. North Reading, Lowell and Reading were also invited.