Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt

FILE PHOTO

Mayor Ted Bettencourt focused on concern about what impact the project will have on the Independent Greenway, the town’s beloved bike path, and the neighborhood in which the pipeline will be built. 

PEABODY — When 120 people filled City Hall Tuesday night for a meeting to discuss the installation of a Tennessee Gas pipeline in West Peabody, a united front was presented. The overwhelming sentiment: We don’t want it.

The project, called the Northeast Energy Direct project, is being proposed by the Kinder Morgan Co., which provides the mechanisms to supply natural gas from their customers, such as National Grid, to their customers’ consumers. According to the company, a “dramatic” increase in demand for natural gas has created a need for additional pipeline infrastructure.

The new pipeline will expand an existing line from Dracut through Middleton and West Peabody into Danvers. Right now the project is only in a discussion stage, with company representatives discussing the situation with local representatives and community members.

After Steve Keady and Mike Lennon, two representatives from Kinder Morgan, gave a presentation about the pipeline, the first wave of opposition came from the mayor of Peabody himself, Edward Bettencourt Jr.

Reading a letter he sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Bettencourt focused on concern about what impact the project will have on the Independent Greenway, the town’s beloved bike path, and the neighborhood in which the pipeline will be built. 

Greg Bunn, a resident of Trask Road, stood up next to voice his concerns. He mentioned that to his knowledge, there is no dire need for additional gas resources, and it won’t serve any purpose for Peabody residents.

“People in Peabody will shoulder the burden without reaping potential benefits,” said Bunn, adding that property values will likely go down and there’s a huge risk to public safety. 

The lack of direct benefits to Peabody residents, the damage it could do to the bike path and the Ipswich River — the town’s water supply — and the potential for a devastating explosion were the three main points brought up in additional speeches condemning the project, with some citing past examples of pipeline explosions.

Council woman Anne Manning-Martin went so far as to accuse the Kinder Morgan representatives of simply going through the motions with their presentation and insisted that, if they were in the townspeople’s position, they wouldn’t want the pipeline either. 

In their presentation and responses to the concerns expressed, Keady and Lennon claimed that Peabody would benefit from the project, citing a hike in tax revenue for the town — in the amount of $25 million, though they later said that was the statewide total — the creation of 3,000 union jobs, and that it would provide a longtime energy line for residents, should they chose to convert to natural gas.

Regarding the notion that Peabody residents wouldn’t actually get access to the gas in the pipeline, the representatives said that is something to be discussed with National Grid. As residents kept returning to that question and repeated past negative experiences with National Grid, it underscored another point that came out of the meeting: National Grid needs to be involved in the discussion. 

In defense of the resident’s disapproval of where the pipeline would be placed — next to the bike path, near the Ipswich River and an active quarry — Lennon repeatedly assured people that Kinder Morgan was open to discussion about where the route should be. He insisted that the route is not set in stone and it’s his and his team’s job to work with local representatives and community members to figure out exactly where the best place for the pipeline would be.

Still, the audience was not swayed. 

State Rep. Ted Speliotis and Councilman Joel Saslaw pointed out that no matter where the line goes, someone will be adversely affected.

“In my good conscience, I won’t sell out the people who will have to deal with fracking, and methane, and drinking water that lights up if you take a match to it,” said Saslaw. “It’s un-American to support it; I won’t sell out my neighbors.”

The meeting ended with fierce words from Mitchell Cole, a resident of Glen Drive, the neighborhood most affected by the path of the pipeline as it is currently sited. 

“Don’t give me puppy-dog eyes; I’m not going to be polite,” he said loudly toward the Kinder Morgan representatives. “Get the [expletive] out of here. Go back to Texas, we don’t want the [expletive] pipeline.”

In response, Lennon only asked once more that the residents and town officials be open to further discussions. 

Further discussions will be essential as the project continues to develop, before anyone from Peabody will be ready to get on board.

Staff writer Amanda Ostuni can be reached at 978-338-2660 or aostuni@salemnews.com.

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