Metro

Baker steps up role in vetting Weymouth gas project

Governor Charlie Baker has instructed state department heads to investigate the potential air quality, public safety, and other implications of a proposed natural gas facility on the Weymouth-Quincy border.

Nicholas Pfosi for the Boston Globe

Governor Charlie Baker has instructed state department heads to investigate the potential air quality, public safety, and other implications of a proposed natural gas facility on the Weymouth-Quincy border.

Governor Charlie Baker is escalating his administration’s involvement in the increasingly contentious debate over a proposed natural gas facility on the Weymouth-Quincy border, promising that the state will take a more active role in representing the concerns of the communities that would be affected.

Administration officials said Baker has instructed state department heads to investigate the potential air quality, public safety, and other implications of the project, which would serve as a key link for a natural gas pipeline through New England into Nova Scotia.

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Mounting opposition to the proposed compressor station near the Fore River Bridge has presented Baker with something of a political quandary, as the state looks to diversify its energy portfolio. Activists in an area of the state that is a stronghold of support for Baker have stepped up their criticism of the project.

Stopping short of joining other elected officials in outright opposition to the project, Baker said he has asked for a public health assessment from his top environmental protection and public health aides.

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He has also directed his energy and public safety chiefs to intercede in the discussion between the public and the federal regulator, telling Weymouth’s mayor that the federal officials “should hear firsthand — and then address — the concerns raised by community members.”

Baker said the state’s coastal zone management office would ask for more information from the project developer regarding risks during floods and hurricanes.

In the letter to Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund, obtained Monday by the Globe, Baker wrote that the state was at an energy crossroads, in need of new renewable energy sources. But, he said, “While we continue to believe that this multi-pronged strategy is vital to controlling the costs of energy, providing reliability, and protecting the Commonwealth’s environment, we also understand the importance of weighing all the potential impacts on local communities.”

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Hedlund responded in a statement that “no community has ever waged this aggressive and pro-active a legal and grassroots fight against such a proposed facility.”

“Governor Baker heard people’s concerns and now has directed his agencies to demand further information from the natural gas company and from Federal regulators,” he continued.

Originated under Spectra Energy, the Weymouth project is now under the banner of Enbridge, which merged with Spectra earlier this year and bills itself as the largest energy infrastructure company in North America.

In an email, Enbridge spokeswoman Marylee Hanley said, “Enbridge is committed to responsible development and looks forward to continuing to work with the state, agencies and elected officials. The Algonquin Gas Transmission system has been operating safely in the area for more than 60 years providing clean, reliable, domestic natural gas to heat homes and businesses.”

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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