HOLLIS — An attorney tasked with helping the Hollis community address widespread concerns over a controversial gas pipeline said the town has several options in the months ahead.
During Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Attorney Robert D. Ciandella advised citizens and town officials that their best bet would be to “provide a community defense” in response to the Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Expansion project, also known as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
The town hired Ciandella, who specializes in energy-related issues, earlier this year after citizens began getting contacted by Kinder Morgan land surveyors.
“Frankly, the community is very much concerned about this pipeline,” Board Chair Mark LeDoux said.
In February, a resident informed the board that a representative from the utilities company had contacted him and asked permission to survey his property.
Since then, town officials learned that the pipeline, if built, could potentially impact more than 90 Hollis properties, including what LeDoux described as “a significant portion of the Beaver Brook conservation area.”
Residents attending two public meetings held last month, including an informative meeting with representatives from Kinder Morgan, voiced their opposition to the project, concerns echoed by all five selectmen.
“We’ve requested a list of all the properties that would be affected but we’ve yet to receive that,” LeDoux said. “Just to be clear, no one on this board is in favor of this. This town has zero interest in having a gas pipeline here that affects peoples’ private properties or easements.”
If built, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline would extend an underground gas line to a facility in Merrimack, stretching a 12-inch pipeline from Pepperell, Mass., through Hollis.
In Pepperell, citizens are expressing similar concerns. A meeting on the matter reportedly drew more than 350 people earlier this week.
This week, Ciandella addressed the legalities surrounding the pipeline and answered questions from town officials and citizens.
A nonpublic session was held immediately following Monday’s public discussion.
Ciandella warned that the issue is a complicated one, noting that sometimes communities are unsuccessful in preventing a gas pipeline from coming to town. Should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grant a certificate of public necessity, Kinder Morgan would be permitted to take property via eminent domain, laying the pipeline on private property and compensating landowners.
That hasn’t happened in Hollis yet, Ciandella stressed, but it could.
“The legal standpoint isn’t exactly in our favor,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the town doesn’t have options, however.
Ciandella urged citizens to stay vocal in their communication with local boards and committees, such as the zoning and planning boards, noting that state law mandates approval by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee prior to the finalization of the pipeline route.
“I recommend we give the boards a formal voice,” Ciandella said. “Pipeline companies like to follow the path of least resistance and right now we’re still in the early stages. So early engagement is going to be very, very important.”
Proposing an alternate route through town might ultimately prove the lesser of two evils, he added.
“We can design a process and convene a public hearing looking at all the environmental impacts and zoning implications,” Ciandella said. “We can explain to them how this project could interfere with the developmental future of Hollis.”