Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hills Were Alive with the Sound of Music

 by Hattie Nestel

The hills were alive with the sound of music at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, but now it's a silent spring.

Well, so to speak. The birds and bees and animals are surely silent even as the machines and saws and chains whir and buzz and clank to make way for an unnecessary natural gas pipeline.

Despite the fact that:
  • The State Department of Conservation and Recreation bought the Otis State forest ten years ago for $5.2 million and put it into Article 97 conserved land.
  • DCR identified the area as one of the most significant land protections for the state. The acquisition was to protect land that contains some 400-year-old Eastern Hemlock forest, rare plant and animal species, historical sites, rolling meadows, and the stunning 62-acre lower Spectacle Pond.
  • Sandisfield residents, environmental groups, and the Massachusetts Attorney General all fought the pipeline, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had failed to comply with legal requirements to permit the Connecticut Expansion pipeline being put through the Conservation land of the Otis State Forest by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline company’s new storage loop for the Connecticut Gas Expansion for gas for their Connecticut customers. 
  • Although FERC statutorily consists of five voting commissioners, only two are sitting presently. However, Kinder Morgan was given permission to proceed by FERC in early April, and on Sunday, April 30, the company began cutting trees on the conserved land. The Massachusetts loop of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline will run a 36-inch pipeline almost four miles near Sandisfield and through Otis State Forest. An additional eight miles of 24-inch pipe will go from Agawam to East Granby, Connecticut.
  • To no avail, US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both D-MA, immediately urged FERC to rescind FERC authorization to proceed with preparations to construct the pipeline. US Representative Richard Neal, D-MA, whose district includes Otis State Forest, sent a letter with a similar request, but also received no response from FERC.
  • Otis State Forest was protected with a conservation restriction under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution enacted in 1972. The constitutional provision was intended to be a governmental check to ensure that lands acquired for conservation purposes were not converted to inconsistent uses, otherwise defined as “development.” Lands and easements taken or acquired for such purposes shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two thirds vote of each branch of the Massachusetts legislature, according to the law. Despite the provisions of Article 97, the state legislature has never voted to authorize construction of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline through Otis State Forest.
  • A letter from the Narragansett Indian Tribal Office to the FERC accuses FERC of “likely” destruction of “ancient ceremonial stone landscape feature” along the path of the Tennessee Gas pipeline company’s proposed new storage loop through Otis state forest.
  • The Stockbridge–Munsee Band of Mohican Indians were not consulted about the route of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline, despite concerns of the Indian community. Their nation will be the most “culturally affiliated” by the pipeline, said Bonnie Hartley, the nation’s tribal preservationist. “Kinder Morgan didn’t respect a different cultural viewpoint to work around or over stone features,” Hartley added.
  • Kathryn Eiseman director of Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network and president of Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc., said, “Under federal law, tribal consultations are supposed to be included early on in the process to avoid locking into a route that is problematic to the tribes.”
  • Jane Winn, executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said a settlement between the state of Massachusetts and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company allowing the pipeline project to proceed through Otis State Forest “violates completely” Article 97.
  • Especially concerning are destructions of habitats during nesting season of mallards, wood ducks, heron, American bittern, bobcats, moose, and beavers.
  • The need for natural gas was based on 2013 numbers and is now way down.
  • Massachusetts Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas called for a moratorium on new gas pipeline infrastructure due to its public health risks. Gas drilling and pipelines release toxic, carcinogenic, and radioactive pollutants which adversely affect our health.
  • Although Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini ruled that the 1938 natural gas act trumps Massachusetts Article 97, he did not take into account what is now the knowledge that climate change is exacerbated by cutting trees nor that burning natural gas, including fracked gas, releases methane into the atmosphere.
Rema Loeb, left, aged 84, and Hattie, right, aged 78, 
were 2 of the 18 activists arrested on Otis State Forest land on May 2, 2017.
One way to stop pipelines is by boycotting banks and financial institutions that invest in pipelines. If you use local banks and credit unions, you are probably not supporting pipelines. Check out where your pensions are invested and which banks and investment companies your towns and various organizations use.

Historically, boycotts work! Now is the time to get on board so we prevent any more Otis forests here or anywhere from being destroyed.

The hills were alive with the sound of music at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, but now they echo with the sounds of silence.

Hattie Nestel is an activist living in Athol, MA.

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