PEPPERELL -- Russell Schott, a corporate attorney and a 33-year Pepperell resident, was one of the key figures who organized the Statewide Pipeline Resistance Relay Walk, a month-long rolling rally held in June and July against the 129-mile natural-gas pipeline project proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. The pipeline would run through many undeveloped lands, including conservation lands, and residential neighborhoods between the western state border to Dracut. Kinder Morgan plans to submit pre-filing paperwork with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September.
Q: What's the latest in the protest activities?
A: We are at a little bit of a slow point because Kinder Morgan has not yet filed the pre-FERC filing that they said they are going to do in September. We are waiting for that.
In the meantime, the fundraising activity is going on. Once Kinder Morgan files (its applications), we will probably need some experts helping us so that we can intervene in the process. We will need some technical help to counter the argument for the real need for natural gas in New England and also the ability to prove the environmental impact of the construction of this pipeline.
Q: How did you get involved in the pipeline protest?
A: I'm on the board of Nashoba Land Trust in Pepperell. We were notified by Kinder Morgan that they wanted to survey our property. It first came to (Pepperell) Town Hall and Paula Terrasi, who is our town conservation agent and also happens to be on the board of the land trust, told us about it.
Q: How did you manage to organize the statewide walk in a month?
A: I was already on the Events Committee, (comprising people from various groups leading protests against the pipeline project).
The job of the Events Committee is to come up with ideas to draw attention to our fight against the pipeline project. (During an anti-pipeline meeting in Groton, resident) Diane Hewitt talked about doing a statewide walk.
It turned out the Events Committee already had the same idea. We thought it would make more sense to do it as a relay than having it all on the same weekend, and we would hopefully get media attention and political attention and draw excitement when it reaches individual towns.
Q: What is the key to effectively organizing a statewide event like that?
A: The first thing was to find people in every single town to walk.
The (committee's efforts) covered everything from publicity to working with local police departments and town officials to recruiting walkers. The idea was always to have as many walkers as possible.
Q: What was the takeaway from the rolling rally?
A: More than anything, it's the fact that there are a lot of people who are concerned.
Q: What is your biggest concern?
My biggest concern about this project is that the decision is not being made in Massachusetts, but rather it's being made in Washington. The whole process to date has been done behind closed doors. It doesn't seem like there was any evaluation of alternatives.
Q: Do you think residents are gaining some ground?
A: Yes. As the result of the statewide walk and the (final) rally in Boston, we were getting quite a bit of publicity for the entire month of July. I think politicians realized that their constituents were very concerned about this. What resulted from that was Gov. Deval Patrick saying he was withdrawing his support for the time being (for the idea to charge electricity rate-payers an extra to help fund the Kinder Morgan pipeline construction) and put everything on hold. So we think it was a pretty good win.
Q: What's the message you want to get across?
A: The message has to go to governmental officials and FERC, and it's that this gas pipeline is not needed and there are better alternatives.
We should be looking at solar, wind and emerging technologies that people have not probably thought about. We should be looking into the future, not the past.
Q: Are you optimistic about the chance of pipeline opponents winning?
A: I'm cautiously optimistic. I think we attracted a lot of attention from local politicians and environmental groups in Massachusetts. I think there are a lot of questions that came up as to if there is really a need for a 36-inch-diameter pipeline.
Why can't they use the existing right of way? Why can't they fix the existing pipes for leaks?
Q: What's your next step?
A: I'm going to a fundraising event tonight. Hopefully, we will be helping to raise some money so that we can get the right people to help fight the FERC battle.
Follow Hiroko Sato on Twitter and Tout @SatoLowellSun.