PEABODY — State Rep. Ted Speliotis is taking a strong stand against the installation of a natural gas pipeline through his West Peabody district. Yet, he acknowledges the long odds against stopping the project.
“I could not possibly support a pipeline that does not support the community in my district,” Speliotis told the News, citing the fact that there are currently no plans to distribute the gas locally. “These pipelines have come through in the past and they haven’t helped us.”
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s project, to be built by Kinder Morgan, would begin in Dracut and link up to an existing gas pipeline in Danvers before flowing elsewhere, perhaps to Canada. To emphasize his opposition, the Danvers Democrat attended last Thursday’s meeting of the Peabody City Council, where the project was discussed.
The pipeline is slated to slice through a section of West Peabody along the Ipswich River and follow the Independence Greenway bike path. “It looks like it’s going to tear off three-fourths of the bike path,” complained Ward Councilor Barry Sinewitz.
The City Council passed two motions Thursday, one demanding more information and an appearance from Kinder Morgan. The other motion, proposed by Councilor Joel Saslaw, calls for the city to contact and work with other communities “concerned about the pipeline.”
So far, basic facts about the project are coming from Kinder Morgan’s website, said Sinewitz.
“We need to learn a lot more about it,” said Speliotis.
Opposition from residents includes a group led by former council candidate Bob Croce called Peabody Citizens United. They have expressed the hope that the Legislature could stop the project by invoking language in the state constitution’s Article 97, which protects lands already set aside for conservation.
Speliotis, a member of the State House leadership, isn’t so sure.
Beacon Hill could invoke Article 97 by a two-thirds vote, he said, but added, “I don’t think we’ve ever taken that vote for a utility.”
One problem, he concedes, is that the biggest complaint about gas pipelines among his constituents is not over where they are, but where they aren’t. In other words, customers complain that they can’t get the gas.
“The No. 1 issue in my district is access to gas,” he said.
That demand may have lessened with the drop in oil prices, he said, but it could return. Meanwhile, other legislators may have heard the same complaints and may be reluctant to stop an infrastructure project making it easier to distribute gas.
Speliotis also doesn’t discount the possibility that the gas, which according to Kinder Morgan originates in Pennsylvania, could eventually be accessed by a new Salem power plant.
“If the power plant needs gas, it’s going to be even more difficult to oppose (the pipeline),” Speliotis said.
Even if the Legislature tried to act they would face the Federal Energy Resources Commission, which has the power to override local and state regulations on behalf of such projects. It was the FERC, for example, that saw the construction of the Maritimes Northeast Gas Pipeline through the North Shore in the early 2000s, despite fierce local opposition.
Given the federal government’s clout in such matters, both Citizens United and the City Council are reaching out to U. S. Rep. Seth Moulton for help.