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Pipeline Public Outreach Campaign Brings Voices 'For' And 'Against' To The Forefront

Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR

A public outreach campaign for a major natural gas pipeline kicked off at an open house Wednesday in Winchester, New Hampshire. 

The proposed project, by Texas-based pipeline developer Kinder Morgan, was moved North to New Hampshire late last year, in part to ease concerns of critics along the original route in Northern Massachusetts. Despite the company’s efforts to minimize the line’s impact, resistance along the new route has been just as strong.

The scene outside a presentation of any major energy infrastructure project tends to feature two crowds: unions…

"My name is Adam Lupino, the regional policy coordinator for the Laborers International Union of North America… um [NHPR: so you guys brought the truck] We brought our truck up, yes. [NHPR: It’s pretty bright] Yes it is."

This group came with a box truck with huge LCD screens on three sides that glow with slogans like, “Pipelines are lifelines” and “Our jobs are on the line.”

"In a pipeline project where, $4 billion dollars in private investment, 3,000 construction jobs, is a real shot in the arm for our organization."

And, just across the parking lot, locals wielding ‘Stop the Pipeline’ signs, and hand-written placards.

Nancy Nye, from Fitzwilliam, is part of that crowd.

"My house, right now, is right on the power-line, and when they take their hundred yards, or hundred feet or whatever is that they want to take my house is gone, because they can’t go directly on the power line."

Credit Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR
Across the parking lot from the union's billboard, a pipeline protester displays information on a laptop screen

Inside the hall, bright posters give Kinder-Morgan’s best pitch for why the pipeline is needed.

The project is billed as a way to alleviate a pinch in natural gas pipeline capacity that has led to winter-time spikes in the cost of gas and electricity.

71 miles of new pipe are proposed that would cross 16 towns along the Southern border of the state, from Winchester to Pelham. It would carry natural gas from the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Credit Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR
Attendees peruse materials set up by Kinder Morgan at the Winchester open house

Allan Fore, VP of Public Affairs at Kinder-Morgan, says, around ninety percent of the project is planned to be co-located with an already existing electric transmission line. Though it’s not yet clear how much of their project will actually be under the power line, next to the power line, or just outside of the power line right of way.

"Co-location at a minimum means ‘adjacent to,’ at a minimum. What we are working towards is co-location within as much as possible."

But Fore says says it all depends on topography and the space available, not to mention the agreement they reach with the powerline’s owner, Eversource Energy (formerly PSNH). He says they need 50 feet of permanent space for the pipe itself and temporarily another 75 feet during construction.

"The temporary part, can that all be within the disturbed area? If it can, that’s 75’ that you don’t have to disturb new area."

Projects like this are notoriously difficult to get built, because all along the way there are hundreds of landowners who can get upset. For instance, in Rindge the power-line goes past the home of Bob and Elaine Dale.

Pollution, explosion, fire, just the disruption of the construction, the noise, the wildlife, where are they going to go. We have woods full of bear and fox and turkey and coyotes, and you know, that's why we moved here.

  Sitting at their kitchen table with their many small dogs around them, Bob Dale says he’s a Yankee, through and through.

"Now our land is marked with stone walls, it’s for good old, Yankee, damn Yankee people like us."

The Dales don’t like the idea of this pipeline; they don’t believe they’ll get much benefit from it. So when Kinder-Morgan asked to survey their land, they sent a back a form-letter saying ‘No.’

Pipeline activists have given these refusal letters to dozens of abutters, and many have followed through.

But that won’t stop the project. They can still get permission to build from federal government, and if that happens they can still get permission to seize un-surveyed property through eminent domain.

The company says it rarely comes to that. Most accept a financial settlement for any land used by the project, and usually less than five percent of affected landowners adamantly refuse to deal. It also emphasizes it will be responsible for reimbursing landowners for any damage done during construction, such as if blasting alters someone’s well.

But that doesn’t ease the concerns of the Dale family.

"Pollution, explosion, fire, just the disruption of the construction, the noise, the wildlife – where are they going to go. We have woods full of bear and fox and turkey and coyotes, and – you know – that’s why we moved here."

Credit Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR
Bob and Elaine Dale don't like the idea of the pipeline and have refused to allow their land to be surveyed

For people who would live near this line explosions are, understandably, on their minds. Such accidents are pretty rare on pipelines like these, but they do happen.

A recent federal report notes enhanced inspection requirements imposed in 2004 resulted in a leveling off in incidents, but not a decline. And so, videos of three major explosions in recent years in Florida, California and West Virginia over recent years are shared liberally on anti-pipeline websites.

Those accidents killed nine people and destroyed dozens of homes. Since 2006, federal data [data from the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] show accidents on that network have resulted in more than $88 million dollars in property damage, but no fatalities.

"Under-ground transportation is the safest way to transport anything."

Credit Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR
Informational placards set up by Kinder Morgan at the Winchester open house

Back at the open house, Alan Fore from Kinder-Morgan says his company doesn’t have a perfect safety record, but its doing its due diligence.

"Testing your pipe regularly with the internal inspection tools, Aerial and ground monitoring of your pipeline systems. Automatic shut-down if there is an incident. But you got to spend the time and the money to do it, and that’s what we’re doing."

This is a massive pipeline. If it were built, the benefit would be shared across all of New England in the form of cheaper energy costs. The towns it would pass through would share $11 million a year in taxes, but they would bear all of the impacts and the risks.

For residents, it’s a lot to take in all at once. Across the hall from Allan Fore, two Winchester residents are having it out.

"He’s says it’s the wrong route because his house is there…"

"No, I said it’s the wrong route because it does not belong in our town because there is nothing offered to our town."

Barry Montgomery, a real estate agent in town is in favor.

"Because I know that cheap energy is what makes towns grow.";

On the other side, Rick Horton chairs the local school board.

"We are trying to build a town for our kids. Not for today, not for tomorrow, but for 20-years from now."

Credit Sam Evans-Brown for NHPR
The crowd at the Winchester open house held by Kinder Morgan

The two go back and forth. They don’t come to an agreement, but they do shake hands. 

Kinder-Morgan says it plans to file its applications with state and federal regulators at the end of this year.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will ultimately have the final say on whether it’s built, which at earlier would begin in January of 2017.

Between then and now, conversations like this will be going on all over the state, as all sorts of New Hampshire residents try to figure out how they feel about this project.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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