People who showed up at a forum about a controversial pipeline project Thursday night were greeted by the sight of nine Peabody police officers, who were there just in case.
The ‘just in case’ — the possibility of protesters — never materialized. Instead, dozens of people calmly filtered through a ballroom at Spinelli’s Function Facility for an information session by Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan.
The event was part of the company’s campaign to gain approval for a natural gas pipeline that would stretch across five states, including Massachusetts. The pipeline would cut through several local communities, including Peabody, Danvers, Middleton, Lynnfield, Reading, North Reading, Tewksbury and Andover.
The proposal has drawn significant opposition, including a “die-in” staged by protesters who laid down on the floor during a similar event in Northfield the night before.
Instead of a meeting where officials spoke and audience members asked questions, last night’s event consisted of several stations where people could read maps, watch slideshows, and ask questions of more than 20 Kinder Morgan employees. There was even a free food table.
Bob Croce, who heads a group called Peabody Citizens United that opposes the pipeline, called the evening “essentially a propaganda show” by Kinder Morgan.
Croce said there are three main reasons to oppose the pipeline: it will be too close to some houses in Peabody and the city’s bike path; it will be near the Ipswich River and could endanger the area’s water supply; and there is no need for additional natural gas.
“Peabody itself, we feel like we’re just a pass-through with no benefit,” Croce said. “No benefit and all the risks.”
Glen Drive resident Mitchell Cole of Peabody said the pipeline would be built close to his backyard, which abuts the bike path. He is worried that the path and surrounding trees will be destroyed, and that herbicides applied to keep vegetation off the pipeline will infiltrate the nearby Ipswich River.
Cole did not seem hopeful that opponents would be able to stop a big company like Kinder Morgan.
“It seems like they’ve got the money to do whatever they want,” he said. “They make like they’re bringing water to people in the desert.”
Wayne Castonguay, executive director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association, said the pipeline will travel through 11 miles of the watershed, cross under the river, and intersect with public water supply protection zones in eight communities, including Peabody and Danvers.
“Those are protected environments to keep the water clean, and this large development will go right through them,” he said. “It’s not technically feasible to not damage the river.”
Allen Fore, a vice president for public affairs at Kinder Morgan, said he understands people’s concerns, but said the company already operates 600 miles of pipeline in Massachusetts and understands how to do so safely.
“We’ve been operating here for 60 years,” he said.
Fore said the pipeline would go under the Ipswich River and not touch the river at all. Areas like the bike path in Peabody that are dug up to install the pipeline would be quickly restored to its previous state, he said.
“Our goal is to be as least impactful as possible,” he said. “It’s not above ground. It’s below ground.”
The company said the pipeline is needed to make up for a shortage of natural gas in New England and will lower energy costs for the area, which now pays the highest prices for natural gas in the country.
Kinder Morgan plans to file an application for the project next month with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. An environmental study could take up to a year before any decision is made.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.