Residents Call for ‘No Build’ Option at FERC Scoping Hearing

August 7, 2015

 

by Kaela Law

New Hampshire Governor Hassan, the New Hampshire delegation, and several hundred New Hampshire residents have all sent written comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project.  It is little wonder that the room at the Nashua Radisson filled with elected officials and citizens wanting to speak with the FERC in person on July 28, and that the audience literally poured out the back doors and down the stairs of the Milford Town Hall on July 29 to speak their piece.

One of the most notable speakers at the Nashua environmental scoping hearing was Dracut, Mass., resident Jim Ogonowski.  Time slots were awarded to maybe 100 people.  By 10:30 p.m. the commission was calling number 45 up to the podium.  The crowd was tired, a few started to trickle out the doors to head home for the evening.  It had been a long night.  Once number 45, Jim Ogonowski, finished speaking, however, the audience was on their feet applauding and cheering his comments to the FERC.  He spoke up for people and conservation lands alike, and his words resonated with many that evening.

“I am a 30-year veteran of the United States Air Force and the New Hampshire Air National Guard.  I am also a farmer.  My family has been farming for over 112 years in Dracut, Massachusetts.  Based on what I can surmise from the latest filing, our farm is the single most impacted parcel of land on the entire 418-mile route.  I am here to tell you our farm is not for sale and it is not free for the taking.

“We have a proud tradition of farming, and we have a brand new tradition of preserving open space.

“Two parcels of our farmland have already been preserved as open space, one with the assistance of Senator Ted Kennedy in memory of my late brother, John.  A veteran, a farmer, John was the pilot of American Airlines flight 11 that was murdered on Sept. 11, 2001.  My late brother’s 100-acre farm is preserved as open space.

“The one parcel we’ve never saved is the parcel my dad purchased in 1948 when he returned from the Army Air Corps from World War II.  This member of the greatest generation said to me, ‘Who do we need to protect our farm from?  We own it.’  The answer is Kinder Morgan.

“Not only does our farmland get the 30-inch mainline that comes into Dracut, where it supposedly ends, we then get two lateral pipelines across our farm.  Over 175 feet of pipe on one parcel of land.  It gets worse.  We are the abutters to a massive compressor station, right next door in a residential neighborhood.  Dracut borders New Hampshire.  This plan borders on insanity.  The people of New England are well educated and we deserve better.  Don’t let a Texas company come to New England to take our land to make a profit by sending gas overseas.

“I’m here tonight representing my family.  This 30-year veteran of the U.S. military is asking for your assistance.  I ask you to preserve and protect our farmland and reject this pipeline.”

The Senior High School of Dracut, Mass., 1540 Lakeview Ave., is the next site for a scoping hearing on Aug. 11 beginning at 7 p.m.  Both the Dracut and the Pelham Pipeline Awareness groups are urging town residents to attend.

Although in her most recent comment to FERC, Gov. Hassan requests additional public scoping meetings to “provide adequate opportunity for our citizens to learn and provide input about a project that has a potentially critical impact on the state’s economy and environment,” no such meeting has been scheduled at this time.  The FERC has suggested it will hold a third meeting in New Hampshire, but the date and location are still not secured.  The governor’s letter goes on to say, “The capacity of the commission to be responsive to the concerns that citizens have about the number and location of the scoping meetings is really a measure of its commitment to the process.”

Scoping meetings are designed to allow speakers three minutes each to give statements for the FERC record.  Longer written records are accepted as well, however, the cut-off to talk is three minutes complete with a timer and a flashing light to warn speakers when only 30 seconds remains on their time.  Elected officials were exempt from the time restraints.  At the Milford scoping meeting after 27 elected officials took to the podium and filled three hours and 20 minutes with their comments, the commission was about to turn it over to the private citizens when Executive Councilor David Wheeler spoke up.

Wheeler brought attention to the fact that he hadn’t been called on with the rest of the elected officials and embarrassingly, the FERC had to acknowledge they lacked an understanding in New Hampshire government and were not aware of the position of the Executive Council.

“We hire the public utilities commissioners or fire the Public Utilities Commissioners.  We hire the Site Selection Committee members or fire the Site Selection Committee members.  We have a significant role in the state, in developing the state’s energy policy,” explained Wheeler.  “We are the second highest elected state official in New Hampshire government.”

Like Jim Ogonowski’s speech the night prior, Wheeler’s speech was interrupted by applause throughout and concluded with a standing ovation.

“Granite Staters are not pipeline push-overs.

“Every public works project has an environmental impact including this one.  Every eminent domain project also has had a substantial New Hampshire benefit.  This export pipeline does not benefit Granite Staters.

“Especially those who live in export pipeline affected towns.  Now this project will steal over 1,500 acres of land from New Hampshire homeowners.  They will be required to give up their land, their forest, their crops, their privacy, their property values, clean pristine water, and the list goes on and on and on.  Air quality and water quality will be affected far beyond the 1,500 acres of this proposed taking.  Ten, 20-fold or more will be affected.

“Part of my duties as an executive councilor is to appoint and serve on highway layout commissions.  If this 71-mile taking was for a highway, it would never pass environmental protection muster.

“In fact the proposed circumferential highway project that would be in Hudson and Litchfield was turned down.  We were told by the EPA and the federal highway administration, Don’t even bother applying for the permits.  You’re not going to get them.  You’re not disturbing that much land.  You’re not taking that much from the people.  Just forget it.  But now comes a 71-mile comparable project that wants to sail right through.  A highway would never, and I mean never, be built with the kind of citizen opposition that was in Nashua last night and that’s here tonight.

“So that begs the real question here:  Will you listen to these people or will you recommend that this project be forced upon us?  The only responsible environmental finding or recommendation for this project should be:  No Build.”