Jan. 30--ANDOVER-- The Board of Selectmen voted Friday to throw down the gauntlet against the Kinder-Morgan pipeline by going after one of its customers.
Meanwhile, residents who don't want the pipeline running through their back yards will have to wait until April to make their case against allowing surveyors onto their properties.
Selectmen voted to intervene in the contract negotiations between Kinder-Morgan and Columbia Gas. That decision gives selectmen a seat at the table and could influence whether a contract is approved by state officials.
Selectmen Chairwoman Mary O'Donoghue said intervenor status is in Andover's best interest, especially since such status is open only to municipalities in this matter.
"Because if we didn't (intervene), we would have no recourse," she said. "We'd be out of the picture."
As an intervenor, the town, through an appointed lawyer, could challenge Columbia's application with the state Department of Utilities for approval to buy natural gas from the proposed pipeline.
An intervenor could challenge the need for the energy, whether more suitable alternatives had been considered or whether the natural gas plan is in ratepayers' best interest, energy law attorney Richard Kanoff told Andover selectmen on Friday.
That challenge card could hold value for Andover and other intervening communities.
"If the contract is not approved, then the project itself will-- I'm not going to say it will not be built-- but I am going to say it will raise questions about its viability," Kanoff said.
Columbia Gas provides service to Andover, North Andover, Methuen, Lawrence and Haverhill, as well as other communities in other parts of the state. It is one of many gas companies that have already pledged to buy natural gas from the new pipeline.
A hearing on the contract application will be held Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. in Boston at the Department of Public Utilities, located at South Station.
Selectmen will decide in the coming week whether the town will be represented by an attorney at the hearing.
The decision to file as an intervenor appeared to be an easy choice for selectmen, considering the cost -- about $400 in legal fees -- and because intervenor status is unavailable to the state, individuals and nonprofit groups, leaving municipalities to assume the role.
"It's either the town gets in and decides to have a seat at the table or it's going to be silence," Kanoff told selectmen. "And I will tell you if there's silence with respect to these proceedings and this pipeline, it will go forward because no one will be presenting information that will directly refute the company's contention that it is necessary and there are no viable alternatives-- and both of those things are questionable."
A distinct matter pending before the state Department of Public Utilities concerns surveys of homeowners' land done by the Tennessee Gas company.
As part of the Tennessee Gas application to build its 400-plus-mile Northeast Energy Direct Project pipeline between shale fields in Pennsylvania and New York and Massachusetts and points north, it must gain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
FERC requires the company to survey properties along the pipe's route as part of its application.
The surveys, which could include drilling or clearing trees, are designed to provide information about the project's impact to the environment.
More than 400 landowners in Massachusetts, including dozens in Andover, have refused Tennessee Gas requests to survey their land.
Tennessee Gas has petitioned the Massachusetts Department of Utilities to allow the company to enter those properties and survey the land. The company said it is authorized to do so under state law.
The Department of Public Utilities has scheduled a series of public hearings to accept comments from landowners on the surveying question. Andover will host a public hearing April 14 at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.
Selectmen previously voted, as other towns in the state have, to become intervenors in Tennessee Gas's application with FERC.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, said its Northeast Energy Direct Project is needed in the Northeast and will lower gas and electric prices for consumers in the region.
Kinder Morgan announced in 2015 that it would transport as much as 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day through a 30-inch pipe between Wright, New York, and Dracut, Massachusetts -- two hubs on the 400-mile natural gas pipeline.