By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Grafton – At the Jan. 17 meeting of the Grafton Board of Selectmen, opponents of the proposed gas pipeline through town presented an alternative solution to the board.
Sponsored by 350 Massachusetts, a group opposed to alleged climate change and in favor of stopping the use of fossil fuels, the presentation and questioning took approximately one-and-a-half hours. Four members of the Greater Franklin Node of 350 Massachusetts, led by Carol Sotiropoulos, gave a presentation. Spectra Energy/Algonquin Gas, the pipeline proponent, did not attend.
In April, Spectra came before the board to request permission to gather data by use of horizontal directional drilling at seven locations. The board approved the proposal 4-1.
Since then, local opposition to the project coalesced. 350 Massachusetts requested – among other things – rescinding the approval for drilling; creating a pipeline advisory board; and passing a resolution to ban the pipeline.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had, in August 2016, ruled unconstitutional a proposal by Spectra to make Grafton residents pay a tax to help fund the pipeline, leaving Spectra to search for other funding. To date, no test drilling has yet been accomplished.
The 350 Massachusetts presentation Jan. 17 pointed out that many in Grafton were opposed to the proposed pipeline for health, safety, climate, and financial reasons. The proposed pipeline would run along the path of existing electric power lines. That right of way land-taking would cheat home owners of their property rights and create a danger just by its placement. In addition, the town should apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for another way to supply more energy. The group claimed that the pipeline was actually for the benefit of the UMass Medical Center in Worcester and other consumers, with most of its gas being shipped overseas with no profits to Grafton or any surrounding towns.
Further, they claimed, the gas carries 60 known toxins and that pipelines have exploded in the past and that such a pipeline is a “common crisis,” also contributing to global warming.
Selectman Sargon Hanna noted that the group had provided “a lot of great information” and asked if Spectra could come into the town as the local railroad propane farm did through federal law.
Sotiropolous replied that local towns can take action to stop gas pipelines, and that “they may be stopped through the death of a thousand cuts.”
Further, she said, no state legislator has the nerve to propose a pipeline tax.
“FERC does have the final say but we can fight it,” she said. “Financing is key. Also, towns can help lobby the Statehouse to oppose schemes to pay for it.”
Grafton residents also voice their opposition.
Donna Williams of North Street presented a drawing showing the pipeline would go over a town well. Susan Thomas of Keith Hill Road noted that the pipeline would go through the Hassanamessit area and be disruptive. And Sandy Shields of Providence Road stated that on a personal level, Spectra employees have not been pleasant or considerate. She claimed that Spectra tried to bully her into signing a survey agreement, which she subsequently rescinded. Yet, they returned and told her what Spectra was going to do, including forcing her get rid of her many farm animals.
Selectman Brook Padgett noted that the board must look at more than one side of the argument, but Spectra being absent for the meeting was a factor in making a decision.
Padgett then moved that the board create the requested ad hoc committee to work with other town boards, which passed 5-0.
Regarding rescinding the prior testing approval, Padgett noted that Spectra hasn’t started the drilling they asked for last year.
“They haven’t done anything yet. If we rescind we would be in a stronger position to oppose it,” Padgett remarked to applause from the audience. Spinney then moved to rescind permission for Spectra drilling. It passed unanimously to additional applause.