Town Draws Suit for Blocking Energy Firm’s Expansion

Photo credit: Spectra Energy

BOSTON (CN) – An energy company is asking a federal judge to let it bypass a town ordinance in Weymouth, Massachusetts, that is obstructing its plans to build a natural gas compressor station.

Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy, sued Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, seeking an order affirming that the federal Pipeline Safety Act supersedes any state or town regulation that would prevent it from expanding its natural gas service.

Algonquin plans to construct a new compressor station in the coastal town of Weymouth, near the Fore River Bridge just south of Boston. The company already operates a pipeline and a metering and regulating station there. The compressor station would allow the company to maintain the pressure of the natural gas it plans to pump throughout New England.

Local activists have opposed Algonquin’s plans due to concerns about potential environmental damage to the air and surrounding waters.

“The compressor station would pose a serious threat to the local community,” the Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station argues on its website, no compressor.com. “Potential negative effects include, but are not limited to, excessive noise, exposure to toxic pollutants, and a decrease in residential property value.”

The Weymouth Conservation Commission denied Algonquin’s permit to build its compressor station under the town’s Wetlands Protection Ordinance, citing concerns about the damage to local wetlands in the event of an accident or explosion at the station.

To bolster their concerns, opponents point to a frozen relief valve in Weymouth, which caused a gas leak in January 2017. Residents could smell gas from a mile away, according to U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, who cited the incident in a letter that called for a halt to Spectra’s plan to build the compressor station.

“The Algonquin Atlantic Bridge Project proposes to build a natural gas compressor station in a North Weymouth neighborhood where nearly 1,000 households are within a half mile of the site,” Lynch wrote in his April 5 letter, which also referenced a pipeline project in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. “With the safety of local families’ foremost in mind, I again urge you to delay both of these projects until we are certain that all proper safety measures are in place.”

Despite the denial of its permit, Algonquin has moved forward, emboldened by the federal Pipeline Safety Act, which holds that, “State authority may not adopt or continue in force safety standards for interstate pipeline facilities or interstate pipeline transportation.”

“By denying Algonquin’s application for a [Wetlands Protection Ordinance] Permit to construct the Weymouth Compressor Station, Defendants are seeking to implement and enforce municipal laws in a manner that conflicts with federal law,” Algonquin claims in its 20-page complaint.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved the compressor station, finding that the proposed project would not have any significant environmental or safety impacts.

Now Algonquin seeks a federal judgment that would allow it to officially disregard Weymouth’s denial of a permit.

Algonquin is represented by James Finnigan and Nathaniel Donoghue of Rich May PC in Boston.

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