Opposition voiced at pipeline hearing in Rindge

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The social media hashtag was everywhere in and around the Franklin Pierce University field house Tuesday night where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held a “scoping hearing” for the public.

The phrase was on anti-pipeline shirts and posters, and in some of the comments submitted at the hearing about the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

Fitzwilliam resident Stephanie Scherr declared in her remarks, “The era of fossil fools is over. Rural lives matter.”

Richmond residents Seth Reece and Curtis Douglass said proposing such a project to come through their backyards and the yards of others is an “act of war,” that they won’t accept.

“Like most folks here tonight, I didn’t ask to be here. Some company I didn’t know declared war on my family and I while I was just minding my own business,” Douglass said.

The project represents a health and safety threat to his family, and he finds it “repugnant” that commission officials are giving serious consideration to approving it, he said.

“For once, why don’t you prove you have spines and man up and regulate something,” he said.

Roughly 300 people from rural southern New Hampshire communities including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, New Ipswich, Temple, Mason and Winchester piled into the field house to be heard and seen by FERC officials.

Many held green cardboard fans with the words, “FERC DO YOUR JOB” on them, and wore stickers with a graphic opposing the pipeline. They cheered and applauded several people who spoke against the project.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a Kinder Morgan company, proposed the transmission pipeline, which would carry natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania through upstate New York, parts of northern Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire before going to a distribution hub in eastern Massachusetts.

Kinder Morgan says the pipeline will alleviate energy shortages and winter gas price spikes in New England. The pipeline would cross 71 miles of southern New Hampshire, including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether the project gets federal approval.

During the five-hour meeting no one spoke in favor of the project. Many attendees encouraged the FERC officials putting together the project’s environmental impact statement to look at several factors including the potential negative effect the pipeline could have on rural character of the region and property values.

Concerns were also brought up about land being taken by eminent domain, and if the pipeline was really needed.

In addition people spoke about the effect it could have on ratepayers in New Hampshire, and what security would be put in place to protect the pipeline, as it’s proposed to travel through several isolated and rural areas.

“How can this be a good thing for New England’s economy?” Rindge resident Patricia Martin asked. “Natural gas will have a monopoly on electricity generation, while ratepayers take all the risk.”

Josiah Barthelmess, 11, of New Ipswich said he was at the hearing with 20 or so of his friends to put names and faces to the hundreds of children who would have to deal with the effects of the pipeline.

The children all wore neon yellow T-shirts with “Kidz of the Pipeline Resistance” printed on them.

Josiah and his family live across the street from where a compressor station for the project is planned.

Studies have shown the possible childhood health effects caused by living near a natural gas compressor station, according to Josiah. Symptoms could include nose bleeds, respiratory problems and skin rashes, he said. The commission needs to consider these studies when making the pipeline decision, he added.

“You expect my generation to thank you for lower energy costs at the sacrifice of our health? You’re sacrificing the children of New Hampshire for corporate greed,” he said. “We are just as important as your own children, and we’re here to say we do matter.”

Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord, and David Wheeler, R-Milford, received standing ovations after their remarks to FERC officials.

Wheeler said he opposes the project and “will do all he can in the power of his office to stop a pipeline from going through New Hampshire.”

Van Ostern said he has heard serious concerns about the project from his constituents, and he shares those concerns, which include whether it’s in the nation’s best interest for a pipeline traveling from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts to go through New Hampshire.

“Second, New Hampshire officials have a long-term energy plan for the state focused on energy efficiency and diversifying away from fossil fuels. How is this compatible with the state’s energy plan?”

With four other natural gas pipeline projects being planned in the Granite State, he also asked why the environmental impact statement for the Northeast Energy Direct project is not being looked at in connection with those other proposals.

That question was revisited by many commenting during the hearing.

“This project offers nothing of value to my district,” state Rep. Susan Emerson, R-Rindge, said. “But it carries so much liability for it, that it’s my elected duty as an official to oppose it.”

Residents in the towns in her district, Fitzwilliam and Rindge, overwhelmingly oppose the project, she said.

The scoping hearing was the first one held in New Hampshire for the Northeast Energy Direct project that had a time limit on it of 11 p.m.

During the meeting, Eric Tomasi, environmental project manager for FERC, encouraged people wanting to comment to dictate their remarks to a stenographer stationed outside the gymnasium area of the building during the hearing. He said he couldn’t guarantee everyone would have a chance to speak. A stenographer was also present to record the spoken remarks.

Among those submitting comments to the stenographer outside the gym was N.H. AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett, who said the project would bring high paying union jobs to the region.

He said he doesn’t want to see that fact, and potential tax relief, and economic benefits from the project get lost in the what he called a shuffle of misinformation.

After the hearing, Tomasi said FERC contracted with Franklin Pierce University to have the space until 11 p.m., and FERC officials wanted to make sure they abided by that since the hearing was on private property.

Scherr said there were some residents from Mason who didn’t get to speak because of the time limit.