TOWNSEND -- With a large piece of PVC pipe, a few signs and one large black tarp crafted into a giant mock pipeline, a band of activists crossed the town line from Ashby into Townsend at Trap Falls on Sunday to make a statement.

Emily Norton of Townsend met with a group of out-of-towners to receive the props. The group held a small "passing of the pipe" ceremony set against the natural backdrop of Willard Brook State Forest near the town line after the group marched about 5 miles from Ashby to stand opposed to the implementation of the proposed Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

Protesters against the Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline meet in the Willard Brook State Forest at the Ashby-Townsend line for the "passing of the
Protesters against the Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline meet in the Willard Brook State Forest at the Ashby-Townsend line for the "passing of the pipe" Sunday as the relay across the state in opposition to the pipeline continues. Sun/Samantha Allen

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Norton, 60, has played the role of Townsend coordinator in the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network relay march this month. With the petition stowed away in a white PVC pipe that several communities have signed so far, the grass-roots organization moves steadily closer to a rally planned at the Statehouse in Boston on July 30. There, protesters plan to hand their petition over to Gov. Deval Patrick.

Norton said more than 10,000 opponents have signed the petition, either in person or online, since the relay started in Richmond, on the New York border, on July 6.

"It's going to move us in the wrong direction as far as climate change is concerned," Norton said of the proposed pipeline. "All the efforts Gov.


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Patrick has made will be thrown right out the window. ... It's (proposed to) pass through every piece of supposedly protected land in every single town. Here in Townsend, it goes through our most beautiful piece of town conservation land."

Supporters of the $3.75 billion Northeast Pipeline Extension Project have said the 129-mile natural-gas pipeline will provide necessary clean-burning natural gas to the northeast United States.

Karen Chapman, right, chairwoman of the Townsend Conservation Commission, signs "the pipe," a facsimile of the natural-gas pipeline proposed by
Karen Chapman, right, chairwoman of the Townsend Conservation Commission, signs "the pipe," a facsimile of the natural-gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan Tennessee Gas Pipeline, after receiving it from Roberta Flashman of the Ashby Conservation Commission on Sunday in the Willard Brook State Forest, as part of a cross-state relay designed to spread awareness about the pipeline proposal. Sun/Samantha Allen

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

Opponents say it will be an eyesore in their communities, hurt property values and bring unwanted, nonrenewable energy into New England, among other things.

Townsend is one of several local communities that have joined a coalition to oppose the pipeline project, along with Tyngsboro, Pepperell and Groton.

The Associated Press reported that comedian Bill Cosby, who owns hundreds of acres of protected land in Shelburne Falls, in western Massachusetts, has come out against the project as well.

About 20 people from Ashby walked through the state forest Sunday afternoon. After Townsend holds a ceremony planned for tonight on the town common, with speakers hoping to spread awareness, the pipe will be walked to the Pepperell town line and handed off to residents there.

Suzanne Diekan of Townsend came with her family Sunday to show their support. She said earlier this year, in February, a Kinder Morgan representative knocked on her door and asked for permission to survey her land. That's when the mother first realized there was a proposal to pass the pipeline through her 1.5-acre property.

Diekan's neighbor, Kathleen Avison, said she was similarly concerned when a representative came to her door earlier this year. Avison's 16-year-old son, Matthew, has since become involved in fighting the project.

"This is my land, too," he said. "I care about the state. It's a scar all across the land. It's kind of a disgrace."

Gwen and Doug Whitbeck, of Mason, N.H., just north of Ashby and Townsend, brought a 50-foot pipeline made of tarps and hula-hoops to showcase what the pipeline might look like if it came through conservation land.

The couple drove over the border to participate in the event, saying they have concerns for a portion of the proposal passing through the area of Hollis and Brookline, N.H.

"Climate change doesn't know town lines or state borders or international borders," Doug Whitbeck added. "I hope we get to see behind the backyard issue. I mean, it is a global issue."

Roberta Flashman of Ashby, who serves on the town's Conservation Commission, spoke about how the pipeline would harm the natural landscape. Flashman was the one who handed the pipe, with the petition inside, to Karen Chapman, chairwoman of the Townsend Conservation Commission.

"We don't need it," Flashman said of the pipeline. "It's bringing five times as much gas to Massachusetts as Massachusetts needs. ... What's driving this is corporate greed."

Townsend Conservation Agent Leslie Gabrilska said local residents' efforts come just before a Special Town Meeting on July 31 in which residents will vote on a nonbinding resolution to oppose the proposed pipeline.

Gabrilska estimated the battle will last at least a year.

"We have a long fight ahead," she said. "We'll do our best to stop it."

Follow Samantha Allen on Twitter and Tout @SAllen_89.