By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – The proposed gas metering station took another step toward coming to fruition, but those opposed to it continue to seek ways to block its development.
At its July 10 meeting, the Select Board opted not to exercise the town’s right of first refusal on the more than 2-acre plot of land owned by Longmeadow Country Club where the planned station would be located.
In an attempt to block the construction of the station, a non-binding referendum asking the board to exercise its Statutory First Refusal Option and purchase the land in accordance with Chapter 61b received strong support and passed 1289 to 693 in June. However, with a price tag of $2.7 million, board members determined it was not in the town’s best interest to pursue purchasing the property.
“After speaking to counsel, we could spend the $2.7 million to buy the property and [the gas metering station] could still be built,” Select Board Chair Marie Angelides explained.
Angelides issued a letter to Longmeadow Country Club President Patrick O’Shea advising him of the decision on behalf of the Select Board the following day. The letter also stated, “The Select Board remains concerned about public safety and public health impacts and will be working with both Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Columbia Gas to mitigate those impacts.” Additionally, it requested that O’Shea keep the town representatives – notably Fire Chief John Dearborn, the town’s emergency management director – updated on the design and construction of the facility.
However, the local interest group opposed to the facility, the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group, took action once again and submitted a petition for a Special Town Meeting to discuss and vote on a zoning bylaw amendment that would potentially bar the metering station. The bylaw would prevent industrial facilities from being built in residential zones. The group submitted 317 signatures – 117 more than necessary to compel the scheduling of a Town Meeting.
“Our biggest objection is that this kind of industrial facility does not belong in a residential zone,” said Michele Marantz of Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness.
The bylaw, which will be decided upon by residents on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. at Longmeadow High School, would need a ⅔ majority vote to pass. In accordance with the law, the Planning Board will host a public hearing on the bylaw on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at the Police Station. Marantz acknowledged this action, like the referendum question, does not provide any guarantees.
“In everything we do, we have never once said that this proposal is the solution,” she said. “We make it clear that our purpose is to go down several avenues in an attempt to successfully prevent this. This arena is a very specific area of the law.”
One area of question is whether the town’s bylaws would be superseded, even if the amendment passes. Tennessee Gas Pipeline receives special considerations in accordance with the Natural Gas Act of 1938, which gave the federal government control over the interstate transmission of natural gas. However, Columbia Gas falls under Massachusetts’ jurisdiction.
“In the two-acre parcel, ¼ will be occupied by Tennessee Gas. The other ¾ is for buildings and equipment for Columbia Gas,” Marantz said. “The intrastate company, Columbia Gas, is subject to state laws and DPU [Department of Public Utilities] approval. We’re hoping the DPU agrees with us. what has given us hope is the fact that in late March, the Energy [Facilities] Siting Board issued a statement that our group had raised questions and concerns that need to be answered before the project should be given the go-ahead.”
At Town Meeting in May, residents also approved a gas emission standards bylaw that stated if a facility is built, it would be subject to stringent oversight for gas emissions, noise and odor. Angelides said that bylaw is still being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.
In addition to health issues addressed by the recently approved bylaw, Marantz said there is concern about a high-pressure pipeline – 200 PSI – set to replace the current pipeline, which utilizes pressure rates closer to 60 PSI.
“It’s a double-whammy for the town,” she said.