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UMass reviews environmental impact of proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline

Posted: November 12th, 2014

Courtesy of Gazettnet.comjackson02

By RICHIE DAVIS

Recorder Staff

Monday, November 10, 2014

(Published in print: Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The University of Massachusetts is reviewing the state’s environmental resources that could be affected by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed 128-mile route across the state.

The university’s Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment plans to issue a series of reports beginning this month that will put the environmental impact of the company’s proposal in context, according to Scott Jackson, associate professor of Environmental Conservation.

The analysis was requested by state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who as the expected next Senate president would play a leadership role if the Legislature votes on whether to allow the $4 billion project to cross state-owned conservation land under the provisions of Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.

In a filing last week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Tennessee Gas Pipeline described its preferred route through Plainfield and nine Franklin County towns as requiring 91 miles of new right-of-way and 37 miles of co-location with existing power lines, affecting 1,554 total acres for construction, crossing 231 wetlands covering 85 acres, 118 bodies of water, affecting 357 acres of federal endangered or threatened species habitat, 1,139 forested acres, 118 acres of farmland, 30 acres of federal lands, 107 acres of state forest or parkland, and 52 acres of wildlife management areas.

Jackson, who is also on the board of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, said his department is compiling an inventory of the state’s maps of all species habitat, prime agricultural soils, wetlands and other features to compare with those along Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s preferred route through Plainfield, Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange.

“It’s not going to be our role to try to take sides one way or another,” said Jackson. “We feel we can be honest brokers that can collect information and make it available to people who are going to make decisions or comments. (TGP parent) Kinder Morgan can take that information as much as state agencies can and opponents of the pipeline, if they can find useful information from what’s available.”

While Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s reports to FERC — part of a preliminary assessment that will continue toward a draft environmental impact report scheduled for filing in April — include detailed information about the number of acres of wetlands and habitat that could be affected by the $4 billion project, Jackson said, “I don’t know how useful that information is for people, because any pipeline anywhere in the state is going to have X number of areas of this-and-that that are going to be impacted. If people are going to evaluate whether this is an appropriate route or not, they’re looking to see, ‘Does it disproportionately affect areas of high-quality natural resources, compared to the state as a whole?’ This will be a way of looking at that. The answer will be ‘yes’ for some categories, ‘no’ for others.

“People will have to make judgments about whether this is, on balance, the right kind of route for a pipeline like this,” he added. “Unless you have a benchmark for the state as a whole, you don’t know if this is having a disproportionate impact on a rare species, or open space or agricultural resources. We’re trying to put information together in a way you can make those comparisons possible.”

Once the report is issued, probably in several stages, Jackson said it can provide information for planning organizations, state agencies, communities and advocacy groups to submit comments to FERC and participate in the National Environmental Policy Act process.

Jackson said he was asked to work with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, which has been mapping critical areas around the region that could be affected by the pipeline. Because his department’s review encompasses the entire state, it will issue a report that may incorporate data from the COG’s mapping in a cooperative arrangement.

The data could also prove useful as Tennessee Gas Pipeline weighs which of several alternate routes for the pipeline would be least environmentally disruptive, and the UMass environmental conservation department could be asked to provide further analysis, Jackson said.

Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct project would extend through western Massachusetts on its way from Pennsylvania via Wright, N.Y., to Dracut.

Local governments have no say over the proposed $3 billion to $4 billion, 36-inch diameter pipeline, and while the state Legislature may have some jurisdiction over its route through protected lands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the agency that licenses such interstate energy projects.