GROTON -- In an extraordinary move, town officials have called for a special town meeting for later in the month to give residents the opportunity of expressing themselves on the issue of construction of a natural gas pipeline through town.
According to the plan proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the pipeline project would run a new 36-inch high-pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond to supply central Massachusetts with natural gas.
In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River and over numerous private parcels.
Along the full length of the buried pipeline, a 50-foot wide corridor would be permanently clear-cut for access.
Plans for the project, with prior approval by federal and state governments, were already well along when it came to the notice of the Board of Selectmen on May 19. At a meeting held that day, resident Diane Hewitt recounted how Kinder Morgan representatives approached her about surveying her property as a possible site through which the pipeline might run.
Hewitt's concerns brought to the board's attention possible unilateral action that could be taken by the natural gas supplier should it not receive cooperation from landowners.
An informational hearing on the project held subsequently was heavily attended by residents driving home the realization of the importance of the issues involved.
A second meeting has been scheduled for June 23 in which Kinder Morgan will be represented.
In the meantime, however, the ball has begun to roll for action with some residents informing Town Manager Mark Haddad of their intention to petition selectmen to call for a special town meeting.
The STM would feature a single article for consideration: A nonbinding resolution that would "oppose any pipeline carrying natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing (sic), within the borders of our commonwealth."
To set the June 30 date for the STM, Haddad told selectmen that time was of the essence and that they needed to vote immediately to make sure it happened. For that reason, the language of the article he prepared for the warrant was based on the expected demands being made by the petitioners.
In addition, although the petition had not yet been received by his office, Haddad assured the board that it would definitely contain the required 200 signatures.
"We are doing this as a courtesy to residents," said Haddad of the rush.
Although some selectmen were not yet convinced of the danger of a pipeline coming through town without further information, they agreed to vote in favor of the STM after two points included in the article were struck: One that made as yet unsubstantiated claims about the dangers to the town of fracking and pipeline construction and another that would block all such construction throughout the state.
Delayed were separate moves to establish a working group to organize efforts to address the proposed pipeline project and having Groton join a coalition of other communities with concerns about the pipeline.
Board members asked Haddad to return at a future meeting with wording for a charge and proposed membership list.
Selectmen chose to take no action on the coalition question pending more information about the pipeline and the June 23 public meeting with Kinder Morgan representatives.
Also at their meeting of June 9, selectmen heard from the Lost Lake Sewer Committee, which presented them with its final report on how exactly Lost Lake is being contaminated.
The report was the culmination of a long process that began years before when a study of the area was made at the request of the Planning Board. The conclusion of that study found that due to a number of factors including the inevitable failure of septic systems on small-sized lots, Lost Lake as well as its associated groundwater are in danger of contamination.
The results of the study prompted the creation of a Lost Lake Sewer Commission that looked into the feasibility of bringing sewer service to the neighborhoods. A plan was promoted that would have brought the line past the Four Corners and connect it to a wastewater treatment plant in Ayer but when it came to a vote at town meeting, voters rejected the design.
Residents at the time were not convinced that the contamination of the lake was due to their septic systems but to issues wholly different. Selectmen responded by establishing the Sewer Committee and charging it to pinpoint exactly where the contamination is coming from.
During the committee's review, it was determined that at least some of the contamination is due to emerging contaminants or drug-based contamination generated by human beings such as mosquito repellent being washed off in the shower.
But in its final report, Sewer Committee members concluded that there is just no way to know if there is a threat to the area's drinking water let alone where contamination is actually coming from.
Committee member Jack Petropoulos said it is the committee's conclusion that the issue needs more study to justify the cost of constructing a new sewer system. Instead, he recommended that for the time being, the town concentrate on public education regarding the proper disposal of drugs and other chemicals while exploring alternatives to installing a sewer system.
With the possibility of needing a body to do such exploring and take the lead in public education, selectmen chose to wait until a future meeting to decide whether to abolish the committee.