By Katina Caraganis
FITCHBURG — They came from across New England, filling the auditorium at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School with a single goal: Stopping Kinder Morgan from building a natural-gas pipeline through their communities.
“It’s all about the numbers to the proponents. They don’t care about the people. They don’t care about your home, your farm, your legacy for your children,” said Ken Hartlage, president of the Nasboba Conservation Trust in Pepperell. “The experts weren’t expecting us to look at those numbers and challenge the conventional wisdom.”
Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is proposing a northeast expansion, beginning in upstate New York, rolling through the Berkshires and North Central part of the state, and ending in Dracut. Kinder Morgan said it needs the pipeline to meet increasing demand. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) makes the final determination on whether the expansion is needed.
More than 500 people attended the summit, with organizers crediting the large turnout to Kinder Morgan’s release of alternate routes that could affect even more communities.
Large-scale maps created by residents, compiled using GIS data, showed homes, water resources and protected open spaces.
Lisa Dack, of Phillipston, said she’s concerned that the project will benefit a small number of people at the expense of others, especially people living in the western part of the state. Kinder Morgan doesn’t know what residents want, she said.
“The lack of knowledge is evident in their plan,” she said.
Dack said the project does not affect her directly, but that it is important she show support.
“I value my land. I don’t want all this land to be lost. I wouldn’t want this to happen to me, so I’m here to support those who are impacted,” she said.
Diane Hewitt, of StopNED, said the number of people in the room shows “clarity about our fundamental values and what we hold so dear.”
All 39 communities considering nonbinding resolutions opposing the pipeline passed them, Hewitt said.
“Nothing is impossible,” she said.
Linda Copp, of Lowell, said the other alternatives should be looked at before the expansion is approved.
“We don’t need a pipeline of this size. There are other projects that are less invasive,” she said.
Carol Carbonell, also of Lowell, called this project “dangerous.”
“You can’t live without water. You can’t live without air. But we can live without fracked gas,” she said.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, praised local work being done.
“I think it’s the general public who will keep this going,” he said.
Eldridge was part of a panel discussion held with other area legislators and focused on how residents can help their local delegation respond to the proposal.
State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, and state Rep. Sheila Harrington, R-Groton, were also part of the panel. Beverly Woods, executive director of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, moderated.
New York-based attorney Anne Marie Garti discussed her experience with the Constitution Pipeline in New York. She laid out ways residents could provide input to FERC, and explained what recourse land owners have against Kinder Morgan.
Among the most important: Entering concerns into the official record without giving Kinder Morgan suggestions on how to improve its plan.
Residents should not allow any survey personnel on their property, and if they have already signed an agreement allowing them, they should file their deny/rescind survey access letters with Kinder Morgan immediately, Garti said.
“Kinder Morgan cannot complete its environmental review if they can’t get on your land,” she said.
Landowners should also file a document refusing to sign any easement agreement with Kinder Morgan officials.
Additionally, she said, excessive use of eminent domain is against FERC’s policy. If a land owner refuses to sign over their land, Kinder Morgan may attempt various legal channels to take their land.
“You have to stay unified if you’re going to win this. The whole thing is about dividing and conquering. Don’t expect FERC to choose an alternative route. They tend to do what the company wants,” she said. “When they (FERC) change the route, you have to join forces with each other and work against them.”
Follow Katina Caraganis on Tout and Twitter @kcaraganis.