GROTON -- With an end of month deadline already fast approaching, members of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Working Group worked quickly to identify stakeholders and familiarize themselves with a permitting schedule that would need to be followed if a private corporation builds a gas pipeline through town.
"It's clear we have a problem," said Dennis Eklof. "The question is how to solve it."
Eklof told fellow group members that it was unlikely that the pipeline project could be stopped but definitely within the realm of possibility was keeping it along established right of ways rather than cutting cross country, perhaps even through sensitive conservation land.
"That may be our best strategy," Eklof concluded.
At issue for the group are plans by Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners to construct a new 36-inch high pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond to supply area towns and other communities in central Massachusetts with natural gas.
In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River, over numerous private parcels, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.
Fearful of the pipeline project, residents have appointed ad hoc committees, formed regional alliances, and collected petition signatures for presentation to state officials.
Part of Groton's response to the pipeline challenge has been to appoint the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Working Group and charging it with coming up with recommendations for the Board of Selectmen on how to address the project by the end of the month.
At its second meeting held Aug. 4, the group began its work by identifying stakeholders, or any persons or groups with an interest in the pipeline project, including local energy distribution entities such as Groton's own Electric Light Department; energy industry actors concerned with buying, selling and distribution of gas; elected officials; local property owners whose land the pipeline is designed to cross; the Conservation Commission; the industrial sector that needs power fueled by gas; and homeowners who stands to benefit from the availability of gas.
Noting the range of interests connected with the pipeline project, Chairman John Giger suggested that the group recommend that the town concentrate on those actors who could be influenced by its arguments.
But even as the group begins its work, Kinder-Morgan has not been idle, lining up customers for the gas it proposes to deliver to the region along its pipeline. Local distributors, including National Grid, are expected to use the energy mostly for home heating.
"The only way to make sure there are no blackouts is to get more gas," acknowledged Eklof, warning group members that Massachusetts had used far more of its capacity in the last year than was immediately available, sending gas prices upward.
Eklof said that it was the responsibility of state and national energy planners to look at the big picture to make sure residents do not go without power or heat, especially in the winter.
The Kinder-Morgan plan, concluded Eklof, was "relatively cost effective."
Also reported was news that Kinder-Morgan planned to pre-file for permitting with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as early as September, predicting a start date for construction of the pipeline in November of 2018.
Before that, however, the company plans to hold a number of public hearings on the project in November and December, with FERC conducting its own "scoping" sessions at which officials will identify issues related to the project's environmental impact and alternative solutions to the energy distribution question.
In the meantime, town officials moved to deny use of town roadways by Kinder-Morgan surveying teams, which, in a letter addressed to Board of Selectmen Chairman Joshua Degen, insisted that Groton had no legal right to prevent its use of the public ways.
Responding to the corporation's plan to ignore the selectmen's edict, Town Manager Mark Haddad said that the board intended on picking up the subject at its meeting of Aug. 11.
With scheduling and stakeholders identified, the group planned to identify ways in which it could contribute to the FERC's draft environmental and economic analysis of the pipeline project, something that was said to be critical in catching officials' attention during the permitting process.
The group also determined to identify who the "players" are in the project scenario and how to contact them for information or to relay the town's concerns.
The group is expected to have its initial recommendations prepared for selectmen by Aug. 31.