Natural gas plan worries Weymouth
WEYMOUTH — Most communities would do just about anything for $47 million, but not Weymouth. Such are the depths of its opposition to a proposed natural gas compressor station along the Fore River.
The $47 million is being offered by Spectra Energy, a Texas-based utility, in exchange for the town’s dropping its opposition to the station. Spectra says the station isa critical part of its $1 billion Atlantic Bridge Project, which would expand its pipeline system to bring in more natural gas to New England.
But in the dense neighborhood nearby, residents are united in opposition. They worry about potential gas leaks, pollution, and home values. Many have lived in the shadow of heavy industry for years, and say enough is enough. Town officials agree: Spectra can keep its $47 million.
“There are so many homes, so many residents living near there,” said Michelle Healy, 54, a lifelong resident who has posted a “No Compressor” sign in front of her Neck Street home. “Nobody is against industry. I just think it’s not the right location.”
The final decision will come from the federal government.
The proposed station would be built in an industrial area in North Weymouth, where a power plant, gas metering station, and sewage pumping facility line the shore, just across the bridge from where the storied Fore River Shipyard once stood.
The dispute in Weymouth comes as another Spectra project, the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline, has drawn heated protests in Boston, Dedham, and other communities.
Town officials have rejected lucrative overtures to drop their resistance, including the $47 million proposal over 14 years — an amount that would be a windfall for the South Shore town.
“The money would have gone a long way,” said Weymouth Mayor Robert L. Hedlund, who negotiated the deal with Spectra Energy. “But it’s a completely inappropriate location for a compressor station.” The company would have paid the town through a combination of cash and future tax payments, Hedlund said.
But the town’s resistance could well be for naught. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not share the town’s environmental concerns.
This spring, the federal agency determined that the station would have no significant environmental effect. A final decision has not been made.
Given the commission’s authority, some residents wonder if the town might have been better off accepting the offer.
“I just would hate to see the town get nothing in return if the compressor gets approved,” said Paul Shinney, 69, a retired town police officer.
It is not clear when a final decision will come.
“The commission is going through the record now,” said Tamara Young-Allen, an agency spokeswoman.
Hundreds of residents, including some from Braintree and Quincy, have written the agency, urging it to deny the station.
Cathy Bevans, for instance, wrote that approving the plant would make residents “canaries in the Spectra coal mine, so to speak, simply to advance Spectra’s profits at the expense of the health and well being of our families.”
Hedlund fears federal approval is a foregone conclusion, and has also appealed the plan at the state level.
“In my opinion, FERC is an enabler, not a regulator,” he said.
Spectra officials say the 7,700-horsepower compressor would help speed the flow of gas from an existing pipeline that runs under the Fore River to meet growing consumer demand.
“Consumers need more natural gas to cook food and heat homes, and at the same time, power plants need more gas to keep the lights on and businesses running,” Spectra spokesman Creighton Welch wrote in an e-mail.
The company chose the Fore River site for its proximity to its existing pipeline and a metering station it built several years ago, he said. The location would “not require construction of any additional pipeline outside of the compressor station property,” he added.
Federal regulators, he said, “have established rigorous siting and safety requirements” and strictly supervise compressor station emissions.
Most residents are unconvinced.
“It’s too congested,” said Dotty Anderson, 86, one of several residents who protest the plan each week at the foot of the Fore River Bridge. “The emissions from these things are very bad, especially for children.”
Rebecca A. Hough, a town councilor who represents North Weymouth, said the project’s risk outweighs even tens of millions in payments.
“I personally didn’t think the money was worth the consequences this would bring to our neighborhood,” she said.
Many regulatory hurdles remain for the project. Spectra has appealed a decision by the town’s Conservation Commission to deny the project a wetlands permit to the state Department of Environmental Protection, and has also applied for a state permit to build the facility along a public waterway. Both matters are under review.
Earlier this month, the state’s environmental secretary, Matthew A. Beaton, rejected the town’s request that the state conduct an environmental review of the compressor and proposed new pipeline together.
Hedlund believes the town’s best chance to stop the project lies with the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, which oversees the state’s industrial ports. The office has determined the station meets state guidelines, but Weymouth officials have challenged that finding.
That appeal might be the town’s last hope, Hedlund said.
“If Spectra gets past that, our odds of stopping this are greatly diminished,” he said.