Oct. 12–EXETER — Following the Select Board’s decision to approve an easement agreement with Liberty Utilities to construct a metering station, board members are reluctant to state their level of support of the company’s proposed natural gas pipeline.
According to the agreement approved during the Sept. 10 meeting, Liberty Utilities will make a non-refundable payment of $30,000 to Exeter to construct a 300-foot by 100-foot metering station on DPW property off Newfields Road as part of its Granite Bridge project. The pipeline application still needs to be approved by the state Public Utilities Commission, which would occur by early next year at the latest. After PUC approval, the project requires state Site Evaluation Committee approval, which would take up to another year before construction begins.
If and when the pipeline is approved, Liberty Utilities will pay Exeter an additional $100,000 to activate the easement and build the metering station.
In general, the board was united in saying even though Exeter is accepting the Liberty’s money; it is not a municipal endorsement of the pipeline.
Board member Anne Surman said Exeter’s decision had to be viewed with a “holistic approach” toward the entire project, in the sense if the pipeline is approved by the state; it is coming one way or another and it was a better decision to build a metering station on the Exeter side of the Squamscott River, instead of the Stratham side so Liberty would not need to drill under the river to connect to the pipeline.
“If it’s coming through anyways, of the two places (the metering station) could be, this is a better spot,” Surman said.
Vice Chairwoman Kathy Corson, said she took some offense to the criticism by environmental activists who claimed Exeter’s agreement with Liberty amounted to a tacit endorsement of the project in social media posts.
“They have put us in a bad light with some of their materials, it’s unfortunate because we haven’t made a decision and we’ve been attacked,” Corson said. “It’s belittling because we did this not for the money but to lessen the environmental impact. We’ve helped the environment because if this gets passed, we are making sure Liberty does not drill under the Squamscott River to put their metering station in Stratham.”
Chairwoman Julie Gilman said allowing for the possibility of the construction of Liberty’s metering station was not an endorsement of the project and added a metering station has an important role in the safe operation of pipelines, mainly relieving pressure in an over-pressurized line.
“The whole purpose of a metering station is to relieve that kind of pressure that occurred in Massachusetts that caused the home explosions,” Gilman said. “The project has a lot of steps to it that are beyond our purview.”
No members of the board would state if they personally endorsed the pipeline. However, Don Clement said especially considering the heating fuel shortages last winter, he considered the pipeline, “not a bad idea.”
“It’s not like gas lines are foreign to Exeter, we already have several running through town,” he said. “The ultimate decision is with state government and the powers that be and we looked at it as a board and said if this comes to pass, then Exeter is OK with constructing a metering station on our property.”
Board member Molly Cowan said she was not ready to state if she supported the project or not.
“Do we need more renewable energy? Yes. But the cold and the necessity for heat are realities here, so I’m not willing to let perfect be the enemy of good,” Cowan said. “We approved the agreement to prevent Liberty from drilling under the river because Stratham would’ve said yes anyways.”
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