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Kinder Morgan has 15 days to answer Deerfield Board of Health questions about proposed natural gas pipeline



Wednesday, September 10, 2014
DEERFIELD — Kinder Morgan has 15 days to respond to concerns raised by the town’s Board of Health before it meets to evaluate the safety of the company’s proposed natural gas pipeline and decide whether it should be allowed to pass through the town.

During a public hearing Tuesday night, the board presented a series of exhibits, mostly news articles concerning Kinder Morgan’s safety record and alleged violations of safety regulations on other pipeline projects, lists of pipeline accidents in the United States and around the world, and articles about the chemicals contained in fracked gas.

After each exhibit was presented, board members asked questions that were recorded and will be sent to Kinder Morgan. The questions included whether the company agreed that an explosion resulting from a pipeline leak would be catastrophic for the residents of Deerfield, how the town would be protected by regulations which Kinder Morgan allegedly has violated in the past, and whether the company could guarantee that dangerous chemicals would not be carried in the gas.

“Our shallow wells could easily be contaminated by a leak which would be a major catastrophe for the town of Deerfield. How can Kinder Morgan guarantee that it won’t disturb the aquifer?” asked board member David Wolfram.

According to board member Carolyn Shores Ness, the company has until Sept. 24 to respond. She said the response must be kept under five pages, and that the board expects a response from a qualified expert on each question.

Ness said representatives from the company called the town Tuesday morning to inform the board that they would not attend the hearing. She said the company did not object to any of the exhibits being introduced into the testimony.

“We still welcome their cooperation and their intention to provide written testimony,” Ness said.

The hearing was called after Cristobal Bonifaz, a lawyer from Conway, offered to act as the board’s legal counsel free of charge at an Aug. 20 public forum about the pipeline. At that meeting, Bonifaz told the Select Board that local health boards have “unlimited power” to stop activities or projects that are deemed a threat to public health and safety.

He cited precedent set in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, including a 1986 case in which the authority of the Cambridge Board of Health was upheld in its banning anthrax research within the town, and another case involving anthrax research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

According to Cheryl Sbarra, an attorney with the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, the position taken by Bonifaz does seem to hold up, so long as no other state or federal laws related specifically to pipelines preempt it.

Ness said the Board of Health will hold another hearing after the 15-day deadline passes and any response received from Kinder Morgan will be taken into consideration in its evaluation of the project.