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Betsy’s Corner: Natural Gas Tennessee Pipeline Public Hearing

Tennessee Gas Pipeline has proposed to have a gas meter station on land at the southern part of Longmeadow Country Club’s property. There was an easement on the land for a long time, but now $2.7 million will go to the private club in a deal that will cause construction extremely close to abutters and Wolf Swamp Elementary School. Neighbors along Whitmun, Arcadia, and Fairway roads will be too close to an industrial style building!

Citizens from Longmeadow and many other Western MA towns spoke out at a public hearing held at Longmeadow High School on March 27 to discuss many important issues. Two important questions remain: Do we need the gas metering station at all – and if we do – must it be at that specific location and that only location? Residents of our area still suffer fro lack of information!

Over 35 people spoke out and submitted written statements. Both State Sen. Eric Lesser and State Rep. Brian Ashe had representatives from their office speak in their absence. The room was quite full and the meeting ran for a full three hours with only a brief intermission. The panel on stage consisted of individuals who can influence the siting of the project under consideration. The people were Joan Foster Evans, General Counsel with the Mass Energy Siting Board and Presiding Officer. She explained that this was only a hearing and not a discussion.

Any questions would not be answered, and this panel did not have the authority to decide the fate of the LCC land in a residential area of our small town. Other members included Cecile Fraser, a Commissioner with the Mass Dept. of Public Utilities and a Siting Board Member, Wayne Wang, a facilities siting analyst with the Siting Board and Barbara Shapiro, the Environmental Director of the Siting Board and Alex Strysky, an Environmental Analyst with the Mass Policy Act (MEPA) Office.

The plan is known as The 261 Upgrade Project. Not a single person in the room supported this plan, citing health risks, pollution, site near a school and the fact that Governor Charlie Baker has decided to cut fossil fuels in the state, not increase natural gas use. Solar Energy and wind powered electricity is the future, and many speakers confirmed that this would be a step backwards not forwards. Renewable energy poses fewer health risks and many cited the disaster last September in the Merrimack Valley. Could an explosion happen in Longmeadow due to careless construction practices or untrained workers?

Tennessee Gas filed an application on October 19, 2018 asking FERC Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow for expanded gas services. This was called a certificate of public convenience – although this sounds to me like Public inconvenience!

This project would install 2.1 miles of new 12-inch diameter pipeline looped primarily within the right of way of its already existing pipeline in Agawam. A pig launcher would also be installed in Longmeadow that would clean and inspect the pipes once they were installed. TCP also plans to widen the easement by 20 feet that would expand the entire site about 5.5-plus acres.

Although maps and site plans have been hard to come by, some plans have been shared through the work of the LPAG – Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group. In fact, the hearing was going to be planned in the Boston area until local activists demanded that Western MA residents have a local spot to speak out.

Residents in East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Hampden and north of here all need to be informed! No one has seen what the TCP-Columbia Gas plan will actually look like. Is it a secret? Architectural plans and elevations, showing size and siting have not been made public at this time. If the Pioneer Valley needs more gas infrastructure, we have yet to see proof of this. Safety is of vital importance, so Columbia Gas should fix all the decrepit pipes causing gas leaks before expanding service.

If you did not attend the hearing but wanted to, the video of the meeting can be seen on LCC. One speaker from Chicopee was especially emotional and moving to hear. He did not have a prepared typed speech, but spoke from the heart. As a Native American, he spoke to the desecration of the land and how his tribe prayed for the land and water that could be contaminated forever. He explained how his tribe and others stopped Kinder Morgan in the Berkshires. He was part of a peaceful gathering, although the media characterized them as demonstrators. Ancestral lands were also disturbed in Otis and he did not want Longmeadow to succumb to the corporate greed of the natural gas companies. Another speaker spoke of common sense. “Dogs bark, birds sing and gas companies sell gas to make money.”

Will this project actually have a minimal impact on the environment? Can it be stopped or is it a done deal? What roles do the Town Manager and local Emergency Services have if this actually gets built? I hate to think this will actually happen in our town and I am an active member in the local LPAG group that wants to slow down the decision making process until more information can be shared with the citizens of our town and surrounding areas. Please call your elected officials both in state and local positions to demand more details. Full disclosure of the situation is of vital importance. The LCC property is a historic part of town, designed by Don Ross almost 100 years ago. Members may not have been given enough information before voting on the fate of our entire quiet safe community. When we moved here I never could have imagined this happening in our town. I would like to see the project go elsewhere or go nowhere!

Please note: As of publication time the decision of the Siting Board had not yet been determined. Please attend the April 22 Green New Earth Day Forum at 6 p.m at Northampton High School.

– Submitted by Betsy Huber Port, Longmeadow, MA.