Andover homeowners fight to stop gas pipeline

(Original Story Here: http://www.eagletribune.com/news/andover-homeowners-fight-to-stop-gas-pipeline/article_2575b498-9d53-58d9-b28c-221c23bd89ed.html)

State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, spoke like a firebrand, at times.

"My office has been inundated with citizens telling them that they have been threatened with eminent domain," Lyons said.

He said the scenario typically went like this: someone knocks on a door and says to the homeowner that they are going to survey their property. The homeowner tells the Kinder Morgan representative, No. they may not survey the property, after which the representative tells them that they will pursue the property through eminent domain.

“It is time that Kinder Morgan stopped threatening our communities,” Lyons said.

ANDOVER — Residents vowed to fight an out-of-state natural gas company's petitions to enter their land and survey it in advance of pipeline construction, even as the residents implored the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to stand up for them and deny the survey petitions.

The Collins Center at Andover High was ground zero Thursday in what many of the speakers at the public hearing characterized as a David vs. Goliath battle, pitting homeowners against a corporate giant.

Some 500 private landowners in Massachusetts, including dozens in Andover, have refused requests by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, to enter their land and dig, cut, and measure the property as part of the survey.

Tennessee Gas has, in response to the refusals, petitioned the state for the OK to enter the lands and survey them without homeowners' permission, saying the company needs the surveys to determine the best route for the 421-mile pipeline and to apply for federal permits.

Speakers at Thursday's public hearing, which drew about 200 people, said Tennessee Gas had resorted to bullying tactics such as threatening language from lawyers and sending people to the homes and telling them their land was subject to seizure by eminent domain.

"This is the behavior of a bully swinging his big axe around to prove how powerful he is," said Tim Carter of River Road, Andover, later adding: "Tonight, you are looking at the scarecrows, the tin-men and lions who are no longer cowardly; we are tired of being trampled by corporations."

David Yachnin of Ellsworth Road said approval of the Tennessee Gas survey request would be paramount to rubber stamping the pipeline since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is reviewing the Kinder Morgan pipeline and whose approval the Texas company needs for the pipeline to be built, has never turned down any material pipeline request.

He said the pipeline would not only rob individuals of quality of life but cause permanent damage to state and local conservation lands.

"These surveys will lead to permanent and irrevocable harm which will destroy over 100 parcels of Article 97 (conservation) lands and destroy our constitutional conservation program," Yachnin said.

The three DPU hearing officers took notes and listened to the comments. The DPU has jurisdiction over whether the surveys will take place.

Andover was the sixth and final public hearing across the state, said Steve August, a DPU lawyer who was hearing officer.

There is no deadline on when the DPU must decide upon Tennessee Gas's petition for the surveys, he said.

Meanwhile, the FERC decision won’t come until at least 2017, following its establishment of a comprehensive environmental impact statement that addresses noise, pollution, cultural resources and other impacts.

About 4.3 miles of the line’s 421-mile length is proposed to run through Andover, much of it parallel to power lines. The gas comes from frack-gas fields in Pennsylvania, and would piped underground through New York, Massachusetts and into New Hampshire.

Merrimack Valley elected officials used strong language on behalf of their constituents, urging the DPU to reject Tennessee Gas' survey requests.

State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, spoke like a firebrand, at times.

"My office has been inundated with citizens telling them that they have been threatened with eminent domain," Lyons said.

He said the scenario typically went like this: someone knocks on a door and says to the homeowner that they are going to survey their property. The homeowner tells the Kinder Morgan representative, No. they may not survey the property, after which the representative tells them that they will pursue the property through eminent domain.

“It is time that Kinder Morgan stopped threatening our communities,” Lyons said.

State Sen. Barbara L’Italian, D-Andover, also said that she opposes the pipeline on economic grounds.

"Consumers would be forced to pay a 20-year tariff for a pipeline they do not want,” she said.

L'Italien also referenced state Attorney General Maura Healey's conclusion, based on a report by her office, that the state does not need the gas pipeline to meet electricity needs through 2030.

Meanwhile, in an earlier statement, Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas, said it has tried to work with homeowners to access their land and has received permission to survey more than 300 properties. It also has changed the pipeline route to minimize impact on private property and protected areas.

“It is strong our desire to work amicably and cooperatively with public officials and private landowners to obtain needed right-of-way information and to do so with the least possible disturbance to public and private lands,” he said in a statement.

Wheatley said the surveys, which are required for federal permits, include civil engineering and archaeological surveys, soil tests and environmental studies of the project’s impact on endangered species and wetlands.

Andover's Conservation Commission member Alix Driscoll told the DPU that the cutting of trees and moving of stone walls and boring of holes — for surveys — is a first step in the building of the pipeline and that work is not legal until FERC has completed its environmental study and granted approval for the pipeline.

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