For local residents struggling to wrap their minds around the pipeline now proposed to run through five area towns, two messages have emerged: Band together, and listen to Massachusetts.
Houston energy company Kinder Morgan had planned a pipeline connecting Pennsylvania shale gas supplies to Dracut, Mass., snaking through upstate New York and 45 northern Massachusetts towns to meet New England energy needs.
But people in several of those Massachusetts towns rebelled, opposing the pipeline in protests, town meetings, comments on the website of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which has final say on the plan — and by refusing to allow Kinder Morgan surveyors access to their properties.
In the face of that opposition, Kinder Morgan revised its plan, bumping the line north to take 14 Massachusetts towns out of the path of the pipeline and replacing them with a line through 18 communities in southern New Hampshire.
The new proposed pipeline would enter New Hampshire in Winchester and exit through Pelham, where it would cross back into the Bay State to Dracut, according to Kinder Morgan filings.
The New Hampshire towns affected include five in Cheshire County —Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester — where residents and town officials have already begun to look to Massachusetts anti-pipeline activists for help.
“If you want to learn how to fly an airplane, you go and look for an instructor,” Fitzwilliam resident Dana Pinney said at a Fitzwilliam town hall meeting about the pipeline Monday. “You don’t have to go and walk around the airplane to try to see how to fly it.”
Many Massachusetts residents, opposed to a pipeline they say would have run through the backyards of some of the oldest farms and houses in the state, quickly formed organizations and committees to stymie Kinder Morgan’s plans.
Richard Hewitt, a member of the Stop the Pipeline Coordinating Committee in Groton, Mass., said members of that group and other activists are willing to help New Hampshire residents grapple with the challenge of standing up to Kinder Morgan.
“We are interested in still staying involved. ... It still begs the bigger question of, ‘Do we really need this (pipeline)?” Hewitt said in an interview Monday. “Maybe we can offer some expertise or guidance.”
Groton is one of the Massachusetts towns that was on the original path of the pipeline but is not included in the revised Kinder Morgan plan.
Hewitt said the message of anti-pipeline activists has shifted from individual property complaints to larger environmental policy concerns.
“I think it really has opened up the larger discussion of, really, how do we want to go forward?” he said. “(The pipeline’s) not using natural gas as a bridge to the future, it’s using it as the future,” he said.
The federal regulatory commission must approve the project, which would expand the pipeline network of Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.
Kinder Morgan said in its proposal the pipeline would meet increasing demand for energy in New England using domestically produced natural gas.
Liberty Utilities, the largest natural gas distributor in New Hampshire, said it had signed an agreement to purchase gas from the pipeline to heat New Hampshire homes.
If the commission grants Kinder Morgan the necessary permits, the company said it intends to start construction in 2017. The Dec. 8 Kinder Morgan filing kicked off a six-month comment period in which anyone can submit online comments or letters on the proposal to the federal agency.
M.J. Galat, a Winchendon, Mass., resident who said she was active in anti-pipeline activism in that town, has attended meetings in New Hampshire to advise residents on how to deal with the Kinder Morgan officials who approach them to talk about the pipeline.
At the Fitzwilliam meeting Monday, she told a crowd of about 150 people that they should refuse to let Kinder Morgan surveyors onto their land.
Selectmen in Fitzwilliam and Rindge have passed measures that bar Kinder Morgan officials or representatives from surveying land in those towns to gather information for the pipeline.
“I have been eating, living, and not sleeping on this for over a year,” Galat said. “We all have to stick together, we all have to come together — Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”
Ftizwillaim Stephanie Scherr said she has already reached out to anti-pipeline activists from Massachusetts to Canada for help.
“This is a regional problem, it’s not town by town,” she said.
Scherr said she was thankful for online resources that have connected her to people with knowledge about the issue who can help New Hampshire residents figure out how to respond.
“Thank God for Facebook,” she said. “Years ago that would have been very difficult.”
The meeting in Fitzwilliam Monday drew residents, selectmen and conservation commission members from all five Cheshire County towns on the proposed pipeline route, as well as representatives from other New Hampshire and Massachusetts towns that will be affected.
Most expressed opposition to the pipeline for a wide range of reasons. These include environmental concerns about the wetlands and conservation land the pipeline would cross, fears about the potential for damage to their property and property values, and legal worries about threats that Kinder Morgan has made to take control of properties in the pipeline’s path.
Most at the meeting had more questions about the plan than could be answered without any input from Kinder Morgan.
Fitzwilliam selectmen Chairwoman Susan Silverman said town officials plan to help create a coalition between the affected New Hampshire towns and Massachusetts activists.
Several officials from nearby towns said Kinder Morgan officials have asked to meet with them in nonpublic meetings during working hours. Silverman said the Fitzwilliam selectmen asked to reschedule for a time when town residents could attend. The company has not responded to that request, she said.
Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, attended the Fitzwilliam meeting along with state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford. He said Kinder Morgan’s failure to release more information to the public in the early stages of its plan to move the pipeline through New Hampshire had created a vacuum where misinformation was beginning to spread.
“Kinder Morgan needs to tell people what the answers are,” he said. “They could do a lot better job of addressing these things head-on.”
Coni Porter, a Fitzwilliam resident who attended the Monday meeting, said in the absence of more information from Kinder Morgan itself, people who want to learn about the pipeline should try to benefit from the pool of knowledge that activists south of the border have already collected
“We don’t have the same span of time to react to this — we have six months to comment on a moving, shifting target,” Porter said. “I get the feeling that Massachusetts is happy to help us.”