GROTON -- The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Working Group got down to brass tacks recently when members narrowed the committee's focus to a number of specific objectives they determined needed further exploration pending a meeting with the Board of Selectmen later in the month.
The Working Group was established by the board to examine issues dealing with plans by Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners to construct a new 36-inch high pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond to supply area towns and other communities in central Massachusetts with natural gas.
In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River, over numerous private parcels, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.
Fearful of the pipeline project, residents have appointed ad hoc committees, formed regional alliances, and collected petition signatures for presentation to state officials.
Part of Groton's response to the pipeline challenge has been to appoint the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Working Group and charging it with coming up with recommendations for possible action by the Board of Selectmen.
In previous meetings, the Working Group identified those groups directly concerned with Kinder-Morgan's plans as well as a permitting timeline the company must follow with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The Working Group also laid plans to identify ways in which it could contribute to the FERC's draft environmental and economic analysis of the pipeline project, action that could prove critical in catching officials' attention during the permitting process.
The group also determined to identify who the "players" were in the project scenario and how to contact them for information or to relay the town's concerns.
That done, at their meeting of Sept. 2, group members worked on identifying specific objectives to be addressed in anticipation of making recommendations to selectmen.
Narrowing down their choices, Group members decided that:
* Mitigation efforts relating to the adverse impact the pipeline project would have in Groton needed to be explored including taxing the pipeline, restoring disturbed landscapes, or making up for such disturbances in protected areas by having Kinder-Morgan donate other pieces of open land to the town.
* Educating the public on pipeline issues including potential benefits to the town and correcting misconceptions.
* Ways needed to be found to compel responsible officials to review local energy needs so as to be better informed about the need for such large projects as the Kinder-Morgan pipeline.
* Formulate an overall strategy to address the pipeline issue as it relates to Groton and make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.
Following identification of objectives, Working Group members assigned themselves to begin work researching selected objectives and to report back to the committee with their findings at a later meeting.
Meanwhile, some hard information of the kind the Group would be examining in their researches came from principal assessor Rena Swezey who reported that concerns that the pipeline would endanger property values was unfounded.
After speaking with officials in Carlisle, said Swezey, she discovered that not only does a gas pipeline running through the town have no effect on property values, but that no one there even gives the pipeline a second thought.
Swezey said that in buying and selling homes in the area, the presence of a gas pipeline nearby never even comes up with property values based as is common practice on the average of home sales in a given area.
In an anecdotal aside, Working Group member Jack Petropoulos, recounting his personal experience of selling a home in Hopkinton, recalled that prospective buyers might use the presence of a gas pipeline as an excuse to try and talk the price down but even if the ploy worked, the markdown was not significant.
The presence of a gas pipeline, concluded Swezey, had "no effect" on property values.
Also noted by Swezey was the fact that should a pipeline come through town, Groton would be in line to profit from its presence.
According to the Department of Revenue, the pipeline would be taxed by the linear foot with a total collection of an estimated $87,000 for Groton.