By Hiroko Sato
PEPPERELL -- Carrying a big, colorful sign that read, "No pipeline. Not In My Back Yard," on her back on Tuesday, Kristin Yargeau paddled into the Nashua River in a canoe.
It's the river the school speech therapist would normally come to kayak and watch swans and herons for peace of mind. But the Pepperell resident of 22 years is now worried that a 129-mile natural-gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners may ultimately be dug beneath the riverbed as part of its path in Massachusetts. And that would destroy the beautiful landscapes, Yargeau said.
"I don't want my town to die," Yargeau said.
The Pepperell pipeline protest followed Townsend's by one day. Groton's protest was scheduled for Wednesday (Please see coverage in next week's paper).
Vince and Denene Premus can relate to Yargeau's sentiments. Just a couple of hundred feet away from their circa-1730 saltbox house on Elm Street, yellow tape marking the potential pipeline route appeared one day. Their teenage daughter asked them how a gas-transportation company could be allowed to run such infrastructure a mere stone's throw from her bedroom window and conservation land across the street.
"I have to answer to my children," said Denene Premus, who walked miles Tuesday in protest of Kinder's Tennessee Gas Pipeline project before joining others to cheer on kayaking protesters.
"It's an all around bad, ill-conceived project," she said, vowing to stop it.
More than two weeks after the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk began in Richmond, local residents took to the Nashua River and conservation land to continue the protest Tuesday.
The morning walk that began at North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend drew more than 70 walkers, who trekked near the proposed route, including 140 acres of farmland and forest called Keyes Property.
About two dozen people then gathered off Canal Street to continue the relay across the Nashua River in kayaks and canoes.
Joining them for the river-crossing was Marion Stoddart, a legendary environmentalist from Groton known for successfully leading the Nashua River cleanup project in the 1960s. Those who know Stoddart say she tirelessly rallied support for the river cleanup among residents and lawmakers, helping to pass 1966 legislation called the Massachusetts Clean Water Act. Her efforts also spawned the Nashua River Watershed Association.
Kayaking on the river that was once filled with copper-red toxic discharge from factories, Stoddart said it's most important to get the public involved in decision-making for any projects that affect a large number of residents -- something that many have complained is lacking so far in the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project.
The river was once labeled Class U, which means "unfit for transport of waste," Stoddart said.
The industries first said the river only needed to smell and look OK. But as more public hearings were held and many voters began demanding better cleanup, elected officials joined the chorus, Stoddart said.
"The power lies in numbers," Stoddart said.
And that's the goal of the relay, said Russ Schott of Pepperell, an organizer for the cross-state walk.
Some time ago, pipeline opponents in the western part of the state wanted a walk, and their counterparts from the eastern part wished to do something to "make a big splash" to draw media attention to the issue, Schott said. They quickly recruited organizers town by town to make the statewide walk happen.
Jeanne Nevard, a Pepperell resident who is a member of the Nashoba Conservation Trust, said the large number of people who participated in the walk doesn't surprise her.
In Pepperell, which spent $1.5 million to buy the 265-acre Pepperell Springs property for open space and teamed up with The Trust for Public Land to preserve the Keyes Property, residents care about the environment, Nevard said. And they feel more united than ever in their fight against the pipeline, she added.
"It's the feeling of solidarity," Nevard said.
Many of those who took part in Tuesday's event said they do not believe the pipeline would entirely benefit Massachusetts residents because the transmission capacity would exceed the demand for gas. They say the company would likely export excess gas for profit.
"If there is the slightest shred of doubt, then you shouldn't be doing it," Vince Premus said.
Premus said he is particularly concerned about the possibility of the company obtaining easements from private-property owners through eminent domain.
Many of the protesters said they do not want to let the private corporation profit from their land.