A town unites in a battle against a gas compressor station
WEYMOUTH — Every week they are out there, collecting signatures at a Stop & Shop and holding signs on Route 3A warning that a proposed gas compressor station would endanger residents’ health and safety.
Even as a pipeline built by the same Houston energy company went online in West Roxbury this month, over the objections of nearly every elected official in Boston, Weymouth residents are still fighting the facility that Spectra Energy wants to build in their town.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to rule any day now on a permit for the 7,700-horsepower station, which would be built at the foot of the Fore River Bridge and help push natural gas from Pennsylvania into Maine and Canada.
If that permit is granted, Weymouth town officials still hope to sink the project by urging the Baker administration to deny it the necessary state environmental permits.
The town’s battle has picked up high-profile support from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey , as well as Representative Stephen F. Lynch, whose district includes Weymouth, all of whom oppose construction of the station.
Mayor Robert L. Hedlund said the town also plans to sue Spectra for not getting local approval when the company bought the land for the compressor site from Calpine Corp., which operates an electrical plant at the base of the bridge.
“We’re underdogs in this effort, and we’ve never been in denial about that,” Hedlund said. “We’re running on hope and legal fees.”
If the town’s efforts fail, residents say they may resort to physically blocking construction of the station, just as West Roxbury residents attempted to do last summer, when they lay down in the pipeline construction zone, resulting in nearly two dozen arrests.
“I just got a message from a member asking, ‘When are the bodies going in the road? When are we doing this?’ And I said, ‘Are you ready?’ ” said Alice Arena, 58, lead coordinator of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, which claims 600 members. “You could create an awful lot of havoc if people blocked up the bridge.”
Paul Burwell, 62, who lives just across Route 3A from the proposed station, said he worries about pollution and the potential for an explosion.
But he said such concerns have been ignored by Spectra, a Fortune 500 company that operates 21,000 miles of natural gas and crude oil pipelines in the United States and Canada.
“They don’t care about the neighbors,” said Burwell as he stood on Route 3A, holding photos of metal tanks and rusty pipes that have littered the area over the years — proof, he said, that the foot of the bridge has absorbed more than its fair share of industry. “It’s all corporate people who want to do what they want to do.”
Spectra officials say the project, which is part of a multistate expansion of pipelines and compressor stations known as Atlantic Bridge, will speed the flow of gas to meet growing demand in New England, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The company also hopes to add at least 4 miles of new pipeline from Route 3 in Weymouth to the Fore River Bridge and double the size of the compressor station within a few years.
“The additional natural gas supply from Atlantic Bridge will help enhance the reliability of energy throughout the region and generate savings for homeowners, businesses, and manufacturers,” Marylee Hanley, a Spectra spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Hanley also noted that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff conducted an environmental assessment this year that recommended that the full commission issue a “finding of no significant impact.”
“The Atlantic Bridge project facilities will be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to meet or exceed federal safety standards and regulations,” she said.
The compressor would be built near a sewage station and an oleochemical factory. But residents say there are more than 900 homes within a half-mile, 3,000 children within 1 mile, and 32,000 cars that cross the Fore River Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth daily.
Most compressor stations, local officials say, are built much further away from homes and heavily trafficked bridges to avoid potential harm to residents.
“In the unlikely scenario of an explosion, trying to evacuate would be almost impossible,” said Becky Haugh, a Weymouth town councilor.
Earlier this year, Spectra offered Weymouth a whopping $47 million over 14 years if officials stopped fighting the station. The money would have been a boon for the blue-collar town, which has a $155 million annual budget.
But Hedlund rejected the deal, saying it lacked community support. Now, Weymouth faces the prospect that it may end up with the station and no money.
Arena said she still believes the mayor made the right decision.
“What is that money going to do for you if that thing blows up?” she said.
Warren, writing this month in the Patriot Ledger, said: “Whether it’s an LNG storage expansion in Acushnet, a compressor station in Weymouth, or pipeline expansions in West Roxbury and Western Massachusetts, it’s clear that the top priority is profit — not safety.”
Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, declined to say where Governor Charlie Baker stands on the project, instead pointing out that the federal government regulates natural gas infrastructure.
Burwell said it would be a disaster if state and federal officials allow the compressor station to be built so close to residents who have lived for years with traffic, noise, and pollution at the base of the bridge.
“We don’t want to see any more here,” he said. “No way in hell.”