Residents discuss possible pipeline health issues at forum

Courtesy photoRoseErin Moylan, a Pelham/Windham Pipeline Awareness volunteer, provides information at one of the group's forums.

PELHAM — Pelham/Windham Pipeline Awareness is one of several organizations voicing opposition of the natural gas pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan. Sunday, the local group hosted a public forum that focused on health implications of the plan.

Formally named the Northeast Energy Direct Project, the $5 billion plan includes a 30-inch wide, 420-mile infrastructure that would run through Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

Locally, it would have a presence in Pelham, Windham, Salem, Methuen, Dracut, Andover and Londonderry. Pelham would house the largest portion of pipeline, totaling 6.1 miles. About 400 homeowners in that town alone would be impacted.

According to Kinder Morgan's website, the project is intended to "help meet increased demand for natural gas, reduce energy costs and create jobs."

However, many locals believe that environmental and health impacts far outweigh the project's intention.

Town Administrator Brian McCarthy said the Pelham Board of Selectmen opposes the plan, but "tries to stay as transparent as possible when it comes to informing the community."

The town's website, found through pelhamweb.com, is frequently updated when new information becomes available from Kinder Morgan or the Pelham/Windham Pipeline Awareness group.

"We have a faction of people in town who are very concerned and don't want it. Another faction want it, and then there are people in the middle who are neutral and don't have an opinion," McCarthy said. "We try and listen to everybody. We work for the people."

Among those who have strongly opposed the pipeline from the get-go is Julia Steed Mawson, a Pelham/Windham Pipeline Awareness volunteer.

"Our goal is helping to educate our folks in town to make sure they know this isn't just a residential pipeline," she said. "It's not just digging a trench and a putting a pipe in the ground, it's an industrial pipeline and all the pieces of an infrastructure that go with it."

Kinder Morgan has also filed an application with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Commission to allow a compressor station to be built in neighboring Dracut, which shares an "air shed" with Pelham.

According to Mawson, about 80 people showed up, but the group reaches more than 1,000 people via email, social media and occasional flyers.

"The room was filled, it was a great turnout," she said.

New Hampshire Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper and Rep. James McConnell were also in attendance.

The gathering lasted for several hours and featured posters about proposed routes, the dangers of pipeline leaks and common environmental mishaps surrounding existing pipelines.

Curtis Nordgaard, M.D., a Boston based pediatrician, also gave a presentation about the infrastructure of pipelines and their effects on the community, specifically children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

"He talked about how nose bleeds, headaches and respiratory issues are all side effects from pipelines in other areas," Mawson said. "Several years ago in New York a pediatrician located near a new pipeline was noticing that kids were coming down with these symptoms. They were some of the first indicators of serious health impacts."

In regard to health and safety, Kinder Morgan's website reads, "The safety of the nation’s natural gas pipeline network is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration," and that group is "responsible for implementing pipeline safety laws and regulations."

Mawson said many members of the local group remain wary of "Kinder Morgan's safety track record," and "don't like the fact it would be an export pipe."

Groups in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are left with concerns as well, and many are having similar conversations. They're unanimously asking for a comprehensive federal health impact assessment on all areas being considered for pipeline installation.

Top New Hampshire lawmakers, including Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Rep. Frank Guinta and Rep. Annie Kuster, have all written letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expressing concerns.

"Based on what I have seen, heard and learned about the proposed pipeline," Kuster said in a December statement, "I do not believe this project serves the best interests of the Granite State and its residents."

At the town level, Pelham voters will be faced with a warrant article related to the pipeline at the upcoming March 8 election.

Article 11 would set aside $49,000 for the Board of Selectmen to use for pipeline opposition, including legal fees, consultants and costs incurred from public forums. 

"If this industrialized project comes through, then it opens the door for many others," Mawson said. "New Hampshire values its rural character and there's a lot of reasons why the state needs to be vigilant on keeping it."

If approved, pipeline construction would begin in January 2017 and be in service by November 2018.

For more information on the Pelham/Windham Pipeline Awareness, visit nhpipelineawareness.org. For more information about Kinder Morgan and its proposal visit kindermorgan.com.

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