Cars passing Park Square on Friday afternoon were greeted with signs of protest.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A court case with the potential for massive long-term repercussions regarding natural gas pipelines began to play out Friday.
Outside of Berkshire Superior Court, around a hundred activists gathered to protest Kinder Morgan's plans.
The Texas-based pipeline company has two proposed routes cutting through Berkshire County. The Connecticut expansion is eyed to cut through Sandisfield and has become the subject of a lawsuit in which the corporation is seeking the ability to cut trees to begin construction on land the state constitution protects.
The company is seeking a two-mile easement through the Otis State Forest and believes under the federal Natural Gas Act, eminent domain for the land is applicable. The company believes the federal approval for the project overrides Massachusetts' Article 97 provisions, which protects the land for conservation.
Kinder Morgan has taken the case to court after the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation refused to grant those easements. The state says the Article 97 provisions in the state constitution protects the land and the only way to remove those provisions is by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
The hearing kicked off on Friday and it is unclear when a decision will be rendered. Outside of the court house, in Park Square, more than a hundred gathered to oppose Kinder Morgan's attempts.
"We have people from all across the state who have come out because Kinder Morgan is trying to take through eminent domain an easement on our permanently protected Article 97 lands. So this will be our Otis State Forest land down in Sandisfield that they are trying to get an easement through. This is just the prelude of what could happen with the big Northeast Energy Direct pipeline," Jane Winn, executive director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said. "We want them stopped now."
BEAT was among a number of groups to organize the protest. Winn said there was a grassroots effort of activism to draw the crowd Friday afternoon. With signs and rally speeches, those in attendance voiced their strong opposition.
"We're trying to raise awareness and let people know this is happening down in Sandisfield. They've gotten little press compared to the Northeast Energy Direct line because that impacts so many land owners," Winn said. "We also want to make sure that the judge and everybody knows this is happening and the people really care."
The ultimate ruling could have an impact on the Northeast Energy Direct project, which is larger in scale and cuts through more than a dozen towns in the Berkshires. Winn said a ruling against the company on the Sandisfield spur could set the groundwork for the ultimate defeat of the larger project.
"I'm hoping the judge will say no and Kinder Morgan will just give up on the Northeast Energy Direct project because there is no way they are getting that one through," Winn said.
Environmentalist have long opposed both projects, citing the negative impacts of fracked gas, a lack of need, and potential health and safety impacts. Those in opposition believe the state's energy future should be based more on renewables than natural gas.
A number of nuclear and coal energy plants have been shut down in New England and the company believes there is a sizable shortage of energy, a shortage these projects will assist. Proponents of the pipeline say renewable energy can't do it all and there is a need for natural gas to compliment the portfolio.
Overall as a state, there has been significant opposition to the projects.
Attorney General Maura Healey has publicly opposed Kinder Morgan's attempts to receive an easement for the Sandisfield land and has said more natural gas is not needed. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is also accusing Kinder Morgan of misleading federal regulators into believing a water quality assessment isn't needed.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren weighed by asking U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reject Kinder Morgan's request for a deadline extension on tree clearing because it "has not been granted the authority to seize conservation land protected by Article 97" and could disrupt critical habitats.
The protestors piled into the courtroom Friday afternoon and Winn says she hopes that will make an impact on the judge.
"We don't know if we are expecting a decision today or if that is down the road, but we hope he'll just say no," Winn said.
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