Aug 202014

BoS Chair Josh Degen: "Kinder Morgan is jerking us around."Art Campbell | The Groton Line

BoS Chair Josh Degen: “Kinder Morgan is jerking us around.”

Groton’s Board of Selectmen took a second swing at barring surveyors for natural gas pipeline proponent Kinder Morgan from working in the town at it’s August 18th evening meeting. First, it voted to rescind a month old “unenforceable” ban on the use of public ways by Kinder Morgan employees. Then it voted 4-1 in favor of a new resolution that also restricts access to town roads, but in a manner that town counsel told the selectmen is legal, and hinges on whether the Federal government agrees with Kinder Morgan that the gas pipeline is needed and that its construction would be in the public interest.

BoS Chair Josh Degen isn’t convinced of either yet. During the meeting, he said, “There is a public need determination that needs to be made, both by the state and by FERC. Currently, that has not been applied for, granted, or even discussed in any way, shape, or fashion.”

The lack of that documented need let the BoS set up a potential Catch 22 situation for Kinder Morgan to solve:

  • The Board voted to insist that any company surveyors working on natural gas pipeline projects in Groton obtain written permission from the Board of Selectmen.
  • To get BoS permission, the company needs a positive “Public Interest Determination” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a validation by the US government that the survey work is being conducted for a viable project.
  • To get the Public Interest Determination, the energy company — Kinder Morgan is this case — needs to file documentation with FERC detailing its proposal.
  • The documentation routinely includes preliminary survey data, and as far as town officials know, that has not been gathered in Groton yet.
  • If Kinder Morgan surveyors attempt to gather the data, they would be in violation of the new rule, because they would not have permission from the BoS.

Which means Kinder Morgan’s surveyors either need to attempt to gather data in violation of the new town rule, or the company will be forced to submit its application with incomplete or less-than-the-highest-quality survey information.

Speaking off the record, people familiar with the FERC documentation review process said that a filing with uneven survey data would not automatically be dismissed, but the review of the filing would not be as straightforward as a comparable filing with complete survey data.

The motion was presented by Selectman Stuart Schulman, one of the town’s delegates to a regional inter-town council of town that would be affected by the proposed 129-mile long, 36-inch Northeast Energy Direct pipeline that would run from upstate New York to Dracut, Massachusetts. When discussion about the pipeline began this spring, Schulman was the only selectman who had made up his mind to oppose the project.

BoS Chair Josh Degen is hoping other town’s follow Groton’s lead in opposing the pipeline. “The vote that the Groton Board of Selectmen took Monday evening, to restrict access to surveying by any pipeline company, should be emulated and adopted by every community affected by a pipeline project throughout the state. Boards of selectmen, town counsels, and mayors should enact this as soon as possible to ensure that their communities are protected to the highest level possible that is within the means of their town leadership.”

Degen sees town cooperation with Kinder Morgan — or the town’s opposition to the company — as a reflection of how the town is treating the town.

“I’ll go on the record: Kinder Morgan is jerking us around, both the town of Groton and many other communities, because data and information that they have said at public meetings would be provided to the town and the residents has been less than forthcoming, if forthcoming at all. If they want to be cooperative partners, and want us, as a community, to be cooperative, then it begins with the applicant, not the municipality.

“Until such time that they are willing to discuss alternates routes; mitigation measures that would provided to communities; whether the fuel, the gas, would stay in New England or that they would allow it to be transported to a facility for export; and various other unanswered questions to which they promised and committed to provide answers to occur, then why should any municipality cooperate with their requests?” he asked.

Looking down the road to when Kinder Morgan submits its pre-filing in September, Degen added, “I would be more than happy when the application is submitted to FERC to have standing and offer testimony to the actions that Kinder Morgan has and has not done relative to statements they have made publicly.”

Schulman was optimistic that Groton’s move would encourage other communities to pass the same type of resolution, to “make a statement.” He explained, “We’re making a statement and I also think that there are a lot of statements that are being made and continue to need to be made and, hopefully, if enough statements are made and enough people are listening to those statements, we could get some positive results.”

Groton Police Chief Donald Palma, who had expressed doubts about the BoS’s first attempt to close the town’s public ways to Kinder Morgan surveyors, told the selectmen that he wasn’t positive how his officers would enforce the revised resolution; that he’d have to research what was possible.

Read Haddad’s letter to Kinder Morgan.