BOS hears from both sides on gas pipeline proposal

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Both opponents and proponents of Spectra Energy’s Access Northeast gas pipeline expansion outlined their stances during a capacity-filled Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday night, with approximately 25 attendees wearing bright red shirts declaring their opposition to the controversial project.

The air conditioner in the Salah Meeting Room was not functioning properly, leaving many attendees to cool themselves with paper fans during the two-hour hearing.

Selectmen took the matter under advisement and Chairman Bob Burr said the board would need time to digest the copious amounts of information presented to the board.

The developers of the project, which include Eversource and National Grid, are seeking federal approval to construct new and improved pipeline facilities along a 125-mile route from New York state to eastern Massachusetts, including a five-mile stretch of new 30-inch pipeline in Canton. The proposed route would go from Cobb’s Corner into Stoughton, then head northeast under Pleasant Street, Turnpike Street, and finally York Street before ending just south of Randolph Street.

While the project would impact Canton specifically, it could also have consequences for all electrical ratepayers, who are being asked to bear the cost of construction via a proposed tariff. The developers, meanwhile, argue that the tariff would be more than offset by the estimated $1 billion a year in electricity savings that the project is expected to generate.

Jennifer Wexler, spokesperson for the grassroots opposition group No Canton Gas Pipeline, said the project would impact four parcels of Article 97-protected conservation lands in Canton, including Canton Woods, Along Red Wing Brook, and Along Pequit Brook.

Besides a vote by selectmen on whether to grant survey and construction approval, the plan will go before the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for a formal hearing in the coming weeks. Already the state Senate has voted unanimously in opposition to the proposed tariff on electrical ratepayers and 61 communities, including Sharon, have opposed the plan, according to No Canton Gas Pipeline.

Burr said in the interest of fairness he gave both sides an hour to plead their cases. Attorney John Bonsall spoke first on behalf of Spectra, Eversource, and National Grid. Bonsall said power plants in New England need additional natural gas pipeline infrastructure to provide the region with greater electric reliability, especially in the coldest winter months as witnessed during the winter of 2015. He said electric ratepayers in New England are already paying higher electric bills (average of 25 to 40 percent) in recent winters because of the existing constraints on the interstate pipeline system.

Wexler and Bri McAlevy of Sharon spoke for the No Canton Gas Pipeline group and brought up a number of concerns in the areas of health, safety, and environmental risks.

They disputed the need for additional gas storage tanks, insisting that energy conservation efforts by residents have reduced regional energy needs. The group is also worried about the 43 leaks in the existing Canton pipeline and believes that the new pipeline will leak additional methane over time.

Opponents also raised concerns about the impact to trees, soil and habitat during construction of the pipeline and argued that property values would be negatively impacted for pipeline abutters. Regarding the proposed tariff, they said there is no guarantee of a cost savings for ratepayers even though they would be bearing some of the construction costs.

They are also concerned about Spectra’s history of gas explosions, with a recent explosion in Salem Township, Pennsylvania, and other recorded mishaps in Florida and other states.

Nancy Gowe of Rebecca Road spoke vehemently against the proposal, arguing that a single explosion would knock her street off the map. “I have one pipeline in my backyard,” she said. “I don’t need another in my backyard. I am so upset by this.”

In contrast, Tom Kenney of Oak Road said he has read many of the reports from both sides of the issue, including a report by Attorney General Maura Healey that concluded that the state did not need additional natural gas infrastructure, and he dismissed the AG’s report as flawed and biased and the information coming from opponents as inaccurate. In summary, he believed that Spectra has made a solid case for the pipeline.

The only guarantee of the night came from Bonsall, who, in response to repeated questions from Selectman Kevin Feeney concerning rail transport of liquefied natural gas through Canton, stated that under no circumstances would the LNG be transported via railways.

If selectmen do not grant survey authorization, Bonsall said utility planners would have to make a “best guess” for the location of the pipeline rather than taking exact markings …

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more highlights from the July 26 selectmen’s meeting. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today (also available in digital form).

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