Jul 152014

Dennis Eklof tells selectmen "I am against the pipeline."

Dennis Eklof tells selectmen “I am against the pipeline.”

The Groton Board of Selectmen ratcheted up its opposition to the Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan, one of the country’s largest energy companies at its Monday, July 14 meeting. The board:

  • Appointed Dennis Eklof and Peter Morrison to its Pipeline Working Group, a seven-member advisory committee that is supposed to keep selectmen apprised of developments as the pipeline proposal is evaluated. Read the group’s charge from the BoS.)
  • Listened to Selectman Stuart Schulman report on the activities of the Northern Massachusetts Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition, a group of town around Groton who are sharing information about the pipeline proposal
  • Passed a resolution closing Groton’s roads and streets to surveyors working to establish control points used to lay out the route of the pipeline.

Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline has proposed building a 36-inch natural gas pipeline from a Kinder Morgan terminal in upstate New York through 45 Massachusetts towns, including Groton, to another terminal in Dracut that both distributes the gas to the region and pumps some on to other terminals.

Eklof, semiretired after 45 years in the energy business, is already serving with Selectman Stuart Schulman as Groton delegates to an inter-town Pipeline Coalition that is sharing information about the pipeline.

“I’m against the pipeline,” he told selectmen, raising both hands to a “Stop!” signal. “I think I bring a lot of knowledge, background, and information that can help this town make the right decisions and present a case to make sure the state makes the right decisions as well. I believe there are alternative pipeline locations, if in fact we need a pipeline.”

“I think there are probably two prongs to effective opposition to this pipeline. One is simply public interest. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has a responsibility for making decisions, but there are still politics involved, and the more we can inform the public; our citizens, and the citizens of the larger group of town in the coalition, the more they can be effective. The other approach is … right now there is a prevailing opinion, and certainly the six governors of the New England states have come out strongly in favor of building the pipeline. Kinder Morgan is willing to put up its capital to do so — it’s a long-term investment for them. We don’t have any firm, well-developed alternatives. If we don’t have that, I think our effectiveness to argue with FERC is going to be severely diminished,” Eklof said just before the BoS voted unanimously to have him join the Working Group as its second at-large citizen member.

Peter Morrison will represent the Conservation Commission in the Working Group.

Schulman told other selectmen that Ekloff has already demonstrated his knowledge and value during meetings of the consortium of towns working to share pipeline information. After changing the name of the group three times, Schulman said the name this week is: “Northern Massachusetts Municipal Gas Pipeline Coalition,” but because two New Hampshire towns may join, the name may change again.

Schulman is co-chair of the liaison group, with Townsend’s Timothy Sheehan. He said the group is working to inventory 49 or more websites it has identified that have pipeline related information, and plans to ask state officials to slow down the pipeline planning process.

“This group is not officially against the pipeline,” Schulman said.

The final pipeline related action of the board was a vote to prevent Kinder Morgan survey teams from establishing survey reference points on town roads by banning them from the roads. The reference points are a preliminary survey step that ensures accuracy for later steps, when the tentative pipeline route is laid out.

Denying access to town roads is likely to be a symbolic gesture, though, and may not even rise to the level of a nuisance to survey teams.

“What David (Doneski, Town Counsel) said is that you can deny the access. It would be more symbolic than anything else, because you don’t own an interest in these particular roads; you really don’t have the legal right to deny access,” Town Manager Mark Haddad told the selectmen. Although ” … my understanding from town counsel is they can go to the DPU and get the permission if they have to,” he still recommended the symbolic vote.

The board does not control any of the land on the tentative pipeline route, although the Conservation Commission and Groton-Dunstable Regional School District does.

Selectman Jack Petropoulos wasn’t in favor of closing town roads to surveyors. “I have concerns about denial of access to anybody for public property. I think it’s a bad precedent and I’m concerned about that. I’m not interested in having the pipeline go through our town and I’m supportive of reasonable efforts to not do so, but denying access to public property to one group … we set a bad precedent,” he said.

Schulman made a motion that “We deny access to public roads to Kinder Morgan for survey purposes.” Selectman Peter Cunningham seconded, and the motion passed 4-1 with Petropoulos standing alone.

Tuesday morning, Groton Police Chief Donald Palma had not heard of the board’s action to close the roads to surveyors until a reporter called to see how he planned to implement the board’s motion.

“I do not believe that is enforceable,” Palma said. “I would have to see what their statement was, but at face value, I don’t know how I could enforce that. I don’t think I have the people, number one, but I don’t think I could enforce that legally. They’re public ways. Any road maintained by the state or the Town of Groton is a way to which the public has a right of access. I just don’t see how you can do that.”