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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hollis meeting on gas pipeline: Fourteen different ways to show opposition

HOLLIS – How many different ways can Hollis opponents of a natural gas pipeline say they don’t want it in town?

Fourteen, as it turns out. ...

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HOLLIS – How many different ways can Hollis opponents of a natural gas pipeline say they don’t want it in town?

Fourteen, as it turns out.

That’s the number of warrant articles, all expressing opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan gas pipeline, that will be considered at a special town meeting on Saturday, Sept. 20.

All 14 articles start with the phrase “To see if the town of Hollis will vote to oppose approval by the New Hampshire Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee to the construction and installation of a natural gas pipeline,” and goes on to give varied reasons for such opposition.

These reasons include concern about the effect on groundwater or wildlife; concern about the effect on the town’s “rural character” or its tax base or the “economic uses” of conservation land “such as silviculture and agriculture”; concern that construction and operation would “adversely affect health and safety” for several reasons; and concern that Hollis doesn’t have the equipment or personnel to handle a gas-related emergency.

None of the warrants will have legal weight whatever the result of voting – but that’s not really the point. The point is to give the town a formal venue for expressing its opinion by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which will have to agree on the location of any pipeline.

“We have been advised by our legal council that the decisions will be non-binding, but they still will be an effective piece of evidence to be used as the town puts together its record ... as an exhibit when it goes before the state,” said Town Administrator Troy Brown.

Because this is a town meeting, people who show up can vote to change the wording of any article. All articles will be subject to a majority vote by town residents only. Unless there is a motion from the floor to require ballots, votes will be by show of hands.

It is common for a special town meeting to consider just one issue, which is what the Milford School District will do Sept. 9 when it considers a proposed teacher contract.

But a meeting that considers more than a dozen articles about the same topic, none of which carry legal bearing or involve any expenditure, is very uncommon. No Telegraph staffer could remember it happening in the area in recent decades; nor could Brown.

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Brown.

Brown estimated that the cost of the meeting would be from $5,000 to $8,000, covering things like sound equipment, legal notices and staff time of the town attorney and other paid workers.

The exact wording of the 14 articles comes from a variety of sources, Brown said.

“It’s a joint effort of legal council and the board of selectmen, based on feedback from citizens. ... A a lot of this subject matter has come up at the public hearings,” he said. “A lot of this is extracted from the town’s master plan.”

Texas-based Kinder Morgan, through its Tennesse Natural Gas Co. subsidiary, wants to run a three-foot-diameter trunk line across northern Massachusetts, carrying natural gas from “fracked” fields in New York state to an existing facility in Dracut, Mass.

Kinder Morgan has also proposed a number of transmission lines, also buried, and a foot or less in diameter, carrying gas to transmission systems. One of them would start in Pepperell, Mass., and run north through Hollis to a Liberty Utilities site on Route 101A in Nashua, traversing a number of properties owned by Beaver Brook Association.

Kinder Morgan is expected to make an initial application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this month, kicking off a years-long regulatory process.

Approval will also be needed from the state Site Evaluation Committee, which issues certificates for energy facilities including gas pipelines and some electric generating and transmission facilities. The committee can impose terms and conditions on such certificates.

The proposal has been the subject of several public meetings in Hollis and in neighboring towns, at which opposition has been far more frequently expressed than support.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).