As towns to the south of Keene continue the fight against a natural gas transmission pipeline proposed to pass through the Monadnock Region, city officials have remained silent on the matter.
There have been no motions or discussions before the City Council about whether or not to support the planned Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. The city also did not seek intervenor status in the ongoing federal review process of the $5.2 billion project’s application.
The deadline to file for such status with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was Jan. 15. FERC officials will now decide whether to approve those motions, which would allow people to become participants in the FERC process, and have the right to request a rehearing of commission orders.
FERC has the power to decide whether to approve the controversial 419-mile interstate pipeline. Officials with the project’s developer, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, which is a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, have asked for approval by the fourth quarter of this year.
“I don’t know why we didn’t take a position on it,” Keene City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski said Thursday. “No one in city government suggested we should.”
In addition, the city hasn’t received any communications from community members asking officials to take action on the pipeline, he said.
“There has been no anxiety from the citizens either way,” he said.
The Northeast Energy Direct pipeline isn’t slated to pass through the Elm City, but it is proposed to come within a roughly 20-minute drive of Keene, crossing though the southern Cheshire County towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.
Fitzwilliam Selectman Susan S. Silverman said she believes the city of Keene should become more involved in pipeline matters, since the project would affect the entire region.
“Keene is a micro-urban center, and it draws on all the towns around it. If the towns around Keene are in trouble, for whatever reason, it is going to affect Keene,” she said.
Troy Selectman William T. “Tom” Matson said he’s surprised Keene residents and officials haven’t become more involved in the pipeline fight.
Matson, who grew up in Troy, said he remembers the protests against Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station during his childhood.
“It used to be a long tradition in Keene, and something people in Keene were proud of,” he said. “It’s surprising to me the lack of participation now, given the long history of activism in Keene.”
Keene’s population is about 23,000, and it serves as the economic, government, medical and social services hub of Cheshire County.
Keene Mayor Kendall W. Lane said Friday that he doesn’t believe there is any impetus for the city to get involved in the pipeline, whether it’s in favor or opposed, since it doesn’t directly affect the city.
Lane did note that there have been discussions about Liberty Utilities running a line in to Keene as a separate project if the pipeline goes forward. “It’s certainly something that would be of interest to us,” Lane said. “Until that happens, we’re really sitting on the sidelines watching.”
Liberty Utilities serves 1,250 customers in Keene with a propane-air distribution system which company officials have said they’d like to convert to natural gas. Doing that could involve having the fuel trucked in to a storage facility for distribution, or eventually running a line off the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline to the city, they’ve said.
Keene City Councilor Terry M. Clark said Thursday he believes the city didn’t file a motion to intervene because “some feel it would be a benefit to having natural gas available in Keene.”
“I really believe that spending all this time and money and effort creating new infrastructure for old energy is a waste of time. We really should be setting our priorities differently. We should be coming up with alternative energy sources,” he said. “I believe the city needs to take a leading role in saying things like that.”
In total, 18 southern New Hampshire communities are expected to be in the path of the 30-inch diameter, high-pressure transmission pipeline as it pushes cheap, fracked natural gas from the shale fields of northern Pennsylvania to a hub in Dracut, Mass.
Of those communities, Amherst, Brookline, Fitzwilliam, Greenville, Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, New Ipswich, Pelham, Richmond, Rindge, Troy, Winchester and Windham filed for intervenor status. Londonderry did not.
Amherst, Brookline, Fitzwilliam, Greenville, Litchfield, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, New Ipswich, Pelham, Richmond, Rindge, Temple, Troy and Winchester are members of the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition, which also filed for intervenor status as an entity separate from the towns.
In its motion, the coalition says it “opposes the project because it’s not needed, there are better alternatives and the impacts are serious and damaging,” according to a news release from the group.
For example, as they noted in the release, “the pipeline would provide significant risks to water resources, given the high number of private wells along the route and the need for substantial blasting to bury the pipe.”
The release from the coalition also noted concerns about the health effects people could experience living near proposed compressor stations along the pipeline’s route, including a 41,000-horsepower station planned for New Ipswich.
While not in the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline’s proposed path, officials in the nearby towns of Peterborough, Sharon, Temple and Wilton have submitted requests for intervenor status. Their motions say the towns oppose the pipeline because of the adverse health, economic, public safety and social effects it could have on the communities and the region.
Peterborough Town Administrator Rodney A. Bartlett said in a statement Thursday that the town decided to file for intervenor status “to keep open the docket for us to provide input and questions at a later date to protect our citizens and our neighbors.”
The Cheshire County Commissioners have filed a motion to intervene, saying the county’s government, which is independent of the city and towns, has “multiple interests” that could be affected by the outcome of the FERC proceedings. Officials also say they support the affected towns’ opposition of the pipeline.
The motion was submitted to FERC after the deadline, but the commission “generally accepts late motions to intervene,” FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said in an email Tuesday.
Commission staff will review all motions to intervene, and if no answer opposing a motion to intervene is filed within 15 days after the motion, the person or group filing as an intervenor becomes a party in the proceedings, she said.
Carol Jameson, chairman of the Richmond Board of Selectmen, said that while it would be nice to have the city of Keene more involved in the pipeline fight, it’s not a realistic expectation.
City residents already live with underground gas pipelines, and are used to living with ancillary factors such as bright lights and other infrastructure that comes with a more urban setting, she said.
“I wouldn’t expect that the environment would be quite as important to them as to us. If you live in a rural area, you’ve already made a decision to put up with a lot of inconveniences for the sake of being in a pristine beautiful spot,” she said.
Keene City Councilor Thomas F. Powers said Thursday that city officials ought to keep an eye on the pipeline, but “I don’t think we need to do much more than that at this time.
“It’s certainly an important issue. If it were to be successful, I think it would be a benefit to the area with lower energy costs,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city has a number of issues it is facing, and officials need to stay focused on those issues, he said.
They include the review and approval of the city’s capital improvement plan and annual budget, the city manager search, and trying to expand the community’s economic base, he said.
Keene City Councilor Carl B. Jacobs said the pipeline situation hasn’t really been a direct issue for Keene, but “that’s not to say we shouldn’t have an opinion about it.”
More than 2,000 individuals, businesses, municipalities, government agencies, energy companies and special interest groups nationwide have filed motions to intervene in FERC’s review of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.
Nine New Hampshire state agencies have also filed motions to intervene, including the N.H. Office of Consumer Advocate. So has the Conservation Law Foundation, The Monadnock Conservancy, the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Southwest Region Planning Commission, based in Keene.