Activists oppose pipeline tree-cutting

Activists ask FERC to abide by Massachusetts Constitution Article 97 protection of conservation land

For the Gazette
Published: 3/25/2016 3:17:51 AM

The Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network has become the first group calling on federal regulators to deny the request by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co  to allow tree-clearing to begin along the Connecticut Expansion Project path.

MassPLAN is responding to the company’s request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday to allow it to begin cutting trees for its 13.42-mile-long loop pipeline expansion, which includes a 2-mile path through Otis State Forest.

Tennessee Gas Pipeline argues in a lawsuit filed in Berkshire Superior Court that it does not need state permission to build across Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, despite protections built into the Massachusetts Constitution.

The company asked to proceed with tree felling to beat a March 31 deadline set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to keep its project on schedule.

Responding on Thursday, PLAN Director Kathryn Eiseman of Cummington raised points made by a Sandisfield citizens group in calling on the federal commission to halt its March 11 certification of the project and in filing formal warning of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

These include the requirement that the company receive a Section 401 water-quality certificate under provisions of the federal Clean Water Act, and its failure to gain permission from the Massachusetts Legislature to gain entry and possession to the state forest property in Sandisfield, under provisions of Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.

The pipeline opposition group pointed to Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s lawsuit against the state as another error made by the company:

“The Certificate Order states, ‘In the event compliance with a state or local condition conflicts with a commission certificate, parties are free to bring the matter before a federal court to gain immediate entry and possession of land in resolution. Curiously, the company has instead commenced a proceeding in state court, rather than following through with the constitutionally mandated legislative process for disposition of publicly held land.”

MassPLAN notes, “The Commission must not lose sight of the fact that allowing tree-cutting activity at this time would result in irreparable physical environmental harm. While it may ‘take about 20 years’ for newly planted trees to mature, on information and belief, there are trees in the area slated for clear-cutting that would take more than a human lifetime to replace.”

Tennessee Gas Pipeline has written to the federal commission saying, “Issuance of a certificate is now critical” for the Connecticut project because of a tree-clearing window that closes March 31 to protect migratory bird species that use the trees for spring nesting.

The company, which has also asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend its cutting deadline to May 1, says it needs to begin work to have the pipeline project ready for its customers by Nov. 1.



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