[Greenfield Recorder Editorial]

Pipeline message made loud and clear


Thursday, March 31, 2016

The message about the proposed natural gas pipeline that residents delivered to state officials Wednesday night in Greenfield was loud and clear: “Don’t tread on me.”

More and more, the differing concerns over plans to cut across Massachusetts with a new natural gas pipeline are galvanizing into this simple warning. It’s one to which government and utility officials should pay close attention.

At this week’s hearing before state Department of Public Utilities officials, “don’t tread on me” carried a literal meaning as well as a symbolic one, as the discussion centered around Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s request to survey more than 400 private properties along the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline route.

It’s a request most landowners have refused.

The DPU has the authority to grant the power of eminent domain to a natural gas company like Tennessee Gas Pipeline, a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan, to send surveyors onto private property. And the DPU may invoke eminent domain to allow pipeline companies “to secure easements or other property rights regarding an approved pipeline route.”

Eminent domain is not a course to be taken lightly. The government’s decision to take privately owned land conflicts with individual rights, including property ownership, and questions about the appropriate level of government reach. Although it is seen as a necessary power of government, there are restraints provided in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which specifies that private property will not be taken without “just compensation,” and in the Fourteenth Amendment limiting state use of eminent domain.

It’s this protection that property owners want to make sure the DPU and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission respect.

“It would be premature, to say the least, for our Massachusetts DPU to grant permission to remove protected land rights, the constitution of our commonwealth, and the authority that the constitution grants to our (Legislature) to benefit a private, profit-seeking interest,” seven area lawmakers said in a joint statement read into the record Wednesday night. “The surveys TGP wishes to undertake are invasive and can be destructive to soil, vegetation, and the quiet enjoyment of owners and neighbors … They are being asked to shoulder the entire burden, against their will while monetary benefits flow to an out-of-state corporation …”

And the echoes of “don’t tread on me” could be heard in Ashfield Selectman Ron Coler’s remarks referencing the 1786-87 Shays’ Rebellion in western Mass. He said the desire to stand up for one’s rights is woven into the community members’ fiber as “their courage, determination and passion yet remains in the bedrock and streams of these hills and valleys … We beg that you do not test the strength of our resolve.”

Four more DPU hearings are scheduled for around the state. The message elsewhere is likely to be the same. And the DPU should see it’s a message that matters.