Trail stewards decry pipeline

Last modified: 4/27/2015 6:43:01 PM
The Friends of the Wapack Trail have concerns about a proposed natural gas pipeline that could affect the trail in at least three locations.

The trail, first cut in the early 1920s, is a popular hiking destination. A pipeline, proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Inc., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, the fourth largest energy company in North America, is proposed to cut through New Ipswich, Rindge, Mason and Greenville, along with other New Hampshire towns, in order to transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to Dracut, Massachusetts.

The proposed line would run parallel to the high-tension power lines that cross the Wapack Trail in several spots: in two places at the Windblown Cross Country Ski Area, and at the trail head to the Kidder Mountain Trail. In some places, the trail runs under the powerlines for several hundred feet.

“We have two purposes, to maintain and protect the trail, so the impact to the trail is of concern to us,” explained Rick Blanchette, president of the Friends of the Wapack Trail.

There are several concerns Friends of the Wapack Trail have, explained Blanchette. High among them is that portions of the trail may have to be closed or detoured during construction of the pipeline. They are also concerned about the condition of the area in the aftermath of the construction.

The project could also have longstanding effects on the quality of the trail, said Blanchette, referring to noise concerns from a proposed 80,000 horsepower compressor station that would be located in Hillsborough County. Kinder Morgan has been considering options in New Ipswich for the site, and if built on the currently for sale former SKAT shooting range, there could be portions of the trail where sound from the station could be heard, said Blanchette. He mentioned the Temple Mountain and Kidder Mountain portions of the trail as particular points of concern for noise pollution.

Blanchette said representatives from Friends of the Wapack Trail plan to meet with Kinder Morgan representatives, as soon as this week.

The Wapack Trail is one of the oldest, public, interstate trails in the country. It starts in Massachusetts, traversing Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Ashby, Massachusetts, New Ipswich, Temple, Sharon, Peterborough and Greenfield.

The trail was conceived by Allen Chamberlain and Albert Annett of Jaffrey, who first discussed the idea of a trail from Mount Watatic to North Pack Monadnock in 1922. That summer, Annett, along with Rindge residents Frank Robbins and Marion Buck started cutting the trail, which was completed in 1923. It came to be called the Wapack Trail, after the “Wa” in Watatic and “Pack” in Pack Monadnock.

“It was immediately popular,” said Blanchette of the trail.

Though none of the three areas where the pipeline would cross the Wapack Trail are conserved, conservation of the trail is an ongoing goal of the Friends of the Wapack Trail.

Friends of Wapack is currently in communications with the Realtor selling a tract of land that contains over a mile of Wapack Trail, in hopes that the next buyer will be amenable to selling a trail easement for Wapack.

However, even if the sections in question were protected by conservation easements, the proposed pipeline is under federal approval. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over approval of interstate natural gas pipelines, can override conservation protections.

According to Peterborough attorney Sy Little, if FERC issues a permit approving the pipeline, then Kinder Morgan will be able to seize land for a right-of-way for the pipeline, which will allow them to construct the pipeline, even on land that was previously conserved.

In fact, said Little, many conservation easements now have clauses that refer to cases of eminent domain, and how any payments received in cases of eminent domain should be dispersed.

“In cases of conservation easements held by not-for-profit agencies, such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests or the Monadnock Conservancy, their own documents acknowledge that the easement is subject to condemnation,” said Little.

Though not bound by the restrictions of any conservation easements, FERC, or the state’s pipeline regulating and approval agency, the Site Evaluation Committee, may require additional mitigation to compensate for the disruption of conserved lands.

Little referenced mitigations made during interstate highway construction, including the state’s widening of Route 93, where mitigations were required to deal with the increased runoff created by the additional impervious surface.

Eminent domain and 
proposed legislation

Two bills relative to eminent domain were passed in the House this session. While one has been killed in the Senate, the other is still being considered.

HB572 would require that if land were to be seized by eminent domain for the purpose of building a natural gas pipeline or its facilities, the owner of the property could require the purchase of the entire property and its buildings. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate on Wednesday.

Another bill, HB227, would have required that anyone seeking to violate a covenant or conservation easement — including doing so by eminent domain — would have to first receive the approval of the legislative body of the affected town. That would mean that no lands or right-of-way easements could be taken by eminent domain without the approval of the affected legislative body. The bill would not have applied to state-owned lands.

The bill passed in the House, but was found inexpedient to legislate in the Senate.

While federal approval, which the Kinder Morgan line would be subject to, overrides states concerns, it can take local and state law into account when requiring mitigations or conditions for approval.


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