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Pipeline company sues Boston over West Roxbury gas line

West Roxbury residents have said they fear the underground transmission pipeline could one day rupture because of relentless blasting at a local quarry.
West Roxbury residents have said they fear the underground transmission pipeline could one day rupture because of relentless blasting at a local quarry.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File)

The owners of the biggest natural gas pipeline in New England have sued the city of Boston for standing in the way of a controversial pipeline extension through West Roxbury.

Spectra Energy Corp., the Houston company that is expanding Algonquin pipeline network, filed suit against the city in federal court on Wednesday alleging that the city would not sell the easements, or rights-of-way, that the company needed to bury its pipeline.

According to a June 23 letter from Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, a Spectra subsidiary, the pipeline company offered the city $600,000 for the right to lay its pipeline under Washington St., Grove St., and Centre St. in West Roxbury.

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Boston politicians have resisted the company’s efforts to build a pipeline spur through part of West Roxbury, siding with neighbors who say the gas line’s proximity to a gravel quarry in the neighborhood poses a threat to public safety. Federal regulators have dismissed those concerns. But Mayor Martin J. Walsh, city councilors, and Congressman Stephen Lynch, a Democrat whose district includes West Roxbury, have appealed that decision and asked regulators to halt pipeline construction until its appeal is heard.

Spectra has pressed ahead, however. The company has argued that enlarging its pipeline network will help lower New England’s high energy prices. But city agencies have delayed responding to Spectra’s requests that have been pending for several months, the company charged in its June letter. Contact between the two sides, it said, has been “very intermittent” since October. The company went on to request a response by June 30.

On July 1, Michael Dennehy, the city’s interim public works commisioner, responded by saying that a lawsuit would be “premature.” His letter included a nine-step checklist for the company to use to get permission to proceed with its project from Boston’s Public Improvements Commission, the city agency responsible for granting easements.

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That same day, Spectra filed suit, and asked the judge for the right to use 170,000 cubic feet of space underground and less than a quarter of a square mile of total aboveground space to install the pipeline. Spectra said federal law allows it to seize the land through eminent domain. The city, the land, and the Public Improvements Commission were named as parties to the suit.

In a statement, Walsh spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin said the mayor is reviewing the lawsuit.

“The mayor is pursuing all avenues with the federal government to protect the health and safety of the residents of West Roxbury,” she said.


Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.