By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – A zoning bylaw amendment aimed at preventing the establishment of a gas metering station in Longmeadow received important approval from the state last month.
On Jan. 21, the Attorney General’s Office informed Longmeadow Town Clerk Katherine Ingram Article 1 of the Aug. 20, 2019, Special Town Meeting passed muster following a legal review.
“Based on the attorney general’s standard of review of town by-laws, we approve Article 1 because it presents no conflict with state law or the Constitution,” Kelli E. Gunanan, assistant attorney general in the Municipal Law Unit, wrote in a letter to Ingram.
As part of the Greater Springfield Service Territory Reliability Project, Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts proposed the construction of a gas metering station on a more than 2-acre plot of land on Longmeadow Country Club-owned property, in close proximity to residential neighborhoods and Wolf Swamp Road Elementary School. Columbia Gas previously stated the portion of the project dubbed the Longmeadow Supply Strategy Project would be a “new point of delivery to be installed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline in the town of Longmeadow that will enhance system reliability for customers on both sides of the Connecticut River and offer economic growth opportunities through enhanced gas supply availability.” On Jan. 17, Columbia Gas reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities that it anticipated the construction of the new pipeline would begin in 2021.
The bylaw amendment sought to change multiple portions of the town’s use regulations to prohibit the construction of a natural gas facility in areas zoned residential. Nearly 95 percent of Longmeadow is residential property while the remainder is commercial.
Specifically, the article amended subsection 6.6 of the Uses in Residential Zones section of the zoning bylaws to prohibit the garaging of trucks, outside storage of materials and supplies, and the installation and use of meter stations, take stations, city gates, and connected facilities. Other public utilities and buildings used exclusively by the federal government may be approved by special permit.
The warrant article also altered subsections of the Uses in Agricultural Zones and Uses in Business Zones sections of the zoning bylaw to state that public utility uses – including the garaging of trucks, outside storage of materials and supplies, and the installation and use of meter stations, take stations, city gates, and connected facilities – are allowable via special permit. However, those developments would be subject to the town’s Restrictions for Facilities of Natural Gas Utilities bylaws, which were passed at Town Meeting in May 2019 approved by the Attorney General’s Office in December 2019.
In a prepared statement to the media, Michele Marantz, chair of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group that brought the bylaw changes forward for a vote, said their passage “proves the power of a group of citizens who worked hard to challenge a proposal that some town officials felt was a ‘done deal’ and a ‘waste of time’ to protest.”
She added, “Though Tennessee Gas has publicly dismissed the impact of its meter station as a mere ‘pipe and flange,” this description doesn’t acknowledge that the final project will look like an industrial gas facility – complete with Columbia Gas out-buildings, fencing, valves, and a high-pressure pipeline that will run from the station north through town and into Springfield.”
Gunagan noted the Attorney General has a “limited power of disapproval” and disapprovals must be related to “inconsistency between the bylaw and the state constitution or laws” and while the zoning changes were approved, there are protections given to certain public utilities under Massachusetts General Law and town bylaws must be applied in accordance with those regulations. In some cases, public utilities might be exempt from town bylaws, she explained.
“Section 3 allows the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE) to exempt public service corporations from a town’s zoning by-laws. If DTE exempts land or structures used by a public utility from the town’s zoning by-laws as provided under [Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40A, Section 3], then the town may not prohibit the public utility use or require it to obtain a special permit,” she wrote.