Tennessee Gas Agrees to Pay the State More than $640,000 for Its Pipeline Expansion Project Through Otis State Forest
Company Took Land in Sandisfield by Eminent Domain; Settlement Includes Environmental Mitigation, Recreational Improvements and Securing Additional Conservation Land
PITTSFIELD — In order to compensate for conservation land acquired by eminent domain and provide important mitigation relief during the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Berkshire County, Tennessee Gas Pipeline LLC has agreed to pay the state $640,000, Attorney General Maura Healey and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton announced today.
Today’s agreement settles a lawsuit brought by Tennessee Gas – a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan – against the state for an easement through Otis State Forest in Sandisfield to expand an existing natural gas pipeline.
“This settlement sets a very high bar for the value of conservation land taken by eminent domain in Massachusetts,” said AG Healey. “We work hard to protect conservation land across our state, and we are pleased that this settlement requires Tennessee Gas to provide important mitigation relief during the construction of the project and assure no net loss of critical conservation land in the area.”
“The financial mitigation package that the Commonwealth will receive represents the tireless work of the state to ensure that the taking of conservation land through eminent domain is placed at an extremely high value,” said Secretary Beaton. “Importantly, this package will allow the state to acquire additional land for future preservation that will truly benefit generations of people within the Berkshire County region and beyond.”
As part of the $640,000 settlement, Tennessee Gas will pay $300,000 for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to identify and acquire additional conservation land in the vicinity that provides ecological functions equivalent to the land impacted by the pipeline.
Another $300,000 of the settlement money will go toward mitigation and improvements to Otis State Forest, including $60,000 to be used by DCR for recreational improvements. The remaining $40,000 is for the fair market value of pipeline easements.
The majority of the $640,000 stems from mitigation costs that DCR determined to be appropriate following a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review of the project in the fall of 2015.
Today’s agreement also requires that Tennessee Gas pay for the cost of environmental monitors and other mitigation, estimated at more than $640,000, bringing the total value of the settlement to more than $1.2 million dollars.
The federally-approved Connecticut Expansion Project extends Tennessee Gas’ existing gas pipeline infrastructure in three states, including New York and Connecticut, while adding four miles of new underground pipeline in Massachusetts. Nearly two miles of this expansion will be constructed in Otis State Forest, directly adjacent to Tennessee Gas’ two existing underground gas pipelines. Otis State Forest is managed by the DCR and protected as conservation land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
In May, Berkshire Superior Court granted Tennessee Gas temporary construction easements and a permanent, six-acre pipeline easement through Otis State Forest by eminent domain taking as authorized by the federal Natural Gas Act. Under Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, the Legislature must approve any easement through protected conservation land.
Tennessee Gas sought the eminent domain taking because the Legislature did not vote to authorize the pipeline easement through Otis State Forest. The decision by Berkshire Superior Court, over strong opposition by the AG’s Office, ruled that the Natural Gas Act pre-empts Article 97 and the pipeline easements were granted. Despite that ruling, today’s settlement includes funds for DCR to acquire replacement conservation land for the pipeline easements through Article 97 land taken by eminent domain.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Mahony, of AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division, Assistant Attorney General Sally VanderWeele, of AG Healey's Trial Division, EOEEA General Counsel Kate McKeever, EOEEA Deputy General Counsel Margaret Callanan and DCR Acting General Counsel Tom LaRosa.