AYER -- Businesses are taking a stand against a proposed natural-gas pipeline planned to run through neighboring towns in the Nashoba Valley.
Ayer has dodged the potential path of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which has stirred up a backlash in nearby Groton, Pepperell and Townsend -- towns through which the pipeline would run.
For months, community activists have protested the 179-mile pipeline that would run from Wright, N.Y.,to Dracut. The pipeline is part of a larger northeastern project that the company claims would meet the region's demand for transportation of natural gas.
But the pipeline's potential route through conservation and private land has caused an uproar, as has talk of a potential tariff on taxpayers to fund the project.
Now, Ayer businesses are joining the fight.
Several Main Street businesses have signed off on a petition to Gov. Deval Patrick, asking him to withdraw a proposal to publicly finance new gas infrastructure and hold the pipeline "to the strictest standards."
The petition also urges him to move toward clean energy like wind and solar power.
Kelley's Hallmark, Flowers by Stella and Du's Tailor and Cleaners signed the petition.
Markoh's on Main, Lucia's Tavola and the upcoming New England Flatbread and Ale Co. -- all owned by Mark and Anne diCicco -- also put their name to the movement.
The diCiccos live in Hollis, N.H. -- another town in the proposed path for the pipeline -- but Anne diCicco said that Ayer should still care about the project.
"Do we sit idly by because it's not us?" she said. "Because the next time they want to build a pipeline, what if they want to build it right through Pirone Park? I think that it's something that we all have to be aware of, and we can't just say 'It's not my backyard, it's their backyard.'"
A member of the New Hampshire Pipeline Awareness group, diCicco argued that Ayer residents could see an impact on their electric bill with the proposed tariff.
Many people feel that the gas will just be exported to other countries, where it can sell for a much higher price, she said.
"Why are they going to sell it to us for a low price when they can just export it for a higher price?" she said. "It's not going to cause our gas bills or electric bills to go anywhere."
Ayer is one of 32 towns included in the Nashua River watershed, and features one of the river's tributaries, Nonacoicus Brook.
The proposed path under the Nashua and Nissitissit River, she said, could also affect water in Ayer.
"Any type of disaster among any of those waterways could affect water in Ayer," she said.
She also argued that the jobs created to build the pipeline would be temporary.
"There's no long-term, good American jobs coming out of this for the people of Ayer," she said.
Gloria Sliger, of Kelley's Hallmark, said even though the pipeline would not run through Ayer, it would still affect neighboring towns.
"We could be next on their list," she said. "What if they put an extension in?"
She noted all the work that has been done to clean up the Nashua River and questioned the actual need for such energy. "Do we need, really need it this badly that they destroy thousands and thousands of acres of good land?"
She said the people in Pepperell, Groton and Townsend are really upset about the project -- and she would be, too, if it were going through Ayer.
"I just hope their petitions and rallies and anger get to the right people and it does stop," she said.
Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, said the company's plan is to file a National Environmental Policy Act pre-filing next month with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The FERC is the five-member body that has the power to approve the pipeline.
That filing would start a review process of impacts, including impacts on water bodies and endangered species.
But he confirmed that the proposed pipeline would have no impact on Ayer.
"Pipeline routing is not final, and alternatives continue to be examined," he said. "I can confirm that project personnel are in communication with Nashua River Watershed officials about the project."
Where the gas would go would depend on their customers' requirements, he said.
"We're an open-access pipeline, which means we move gas from Point A to Point B for our customers, who obtain capacity and reserve space on our pipelines," he said.
Additional gas coming into the region could potentially mitigate or lower prices over time, he said.
"If the project moves ahead, we do see a beneficial effect, longer-term, on consumer prices based on the fact that there would be additional natural gas flowing into the region," he said.
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