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New Canaan's natural gas pipeline project faces deed hurdle

Published 2:31 pm, Thursday, March 28, 2013
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The Board of Selectmen heard an update on the state of the project to tap the natural gas pipeline under Waveny Park from Town Attorney Ira Bloom on Tuesday, March 19.

The Parks and Recreation Commission approved an approximate site in Waveny Park to construct a gate station, which would allow a utility to tap into the pipeline. Some concern was raised over whether the town could do that given the deed on Waveny, which restricts some types of development.

"We reviewed the various deeds that created the park, we looked at various restrictions on the deeds. There are, in fact, restrictions," Bloom said. "We discovered there's a statute, 7-131N, which we believe we could use under these circumstances, to replace the area that will be used in the park with comparable area, a substitute for open air space somewhere else ... I suggest a nicer piece, with benches, so that it won't be an equal transaction, it will be a better transaction for residents."

The parcel of land is about 30 by 100 feet and lies behind the paddle courts, where the park slopes down to meet Lapham Road. First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said all town-owned land would be considered in looking for replacements, though Bloom recommended looking at land within the Waveny deed that does not have the same restrictions and is not currently used as a park.

The question of whether or not the town would have to pay for the construction of the gate station remains open, but the selectmen seemed to think such a deterrent could be overcome when the town gets to negotiations with Yankee Gas. Mallozzi and Selectman Nick Williams pointed out how many customers Yankee Gas could be gaining because of this development.

"(This is) a corporate annuity for them going forward," he said, arguing that the town has the negotiating leverage to make sure it doesn't foot a large bill for this project.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline, owned by Kinder Morgan Inc., is a major carrier of natural gas, which runs from the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana through Pennsylvania and up to Massachusetts. It happens to run directly beneath New Canaan, and below Waveny Park. In cooperation with Yankee Gas, the town could build a station that would tap into the pipeline and depressurize the gas, which could be used municipally and residentially.

Tapping the pipeline has long been an objective of Mallozzi's and of Fire Marshal Fred Baker. Baker has pushed for this project to succeed over fire concerns downtown.

"With our plethora of restaurants, all of them use gas to cook with," he said. "They use propane, which is stored in tanks. Downtown there are about 75, 100-gallon tanks. They're up to code but they do present a fire hazard. I would like to see them replaced."

There is also a big financial reason to want natural gas.

"I did an analysis of the three school buildings (South, Saxe and the high school)," Scott LaShelle of New Canaan's Utilities Commission said at the February meeting of Park and Recreation Commission. "That (accounts for) about $775,000 a year (in energy costs). Natural gas would be about $279,000 a year. Savings would be about $400,000 to 500,000 a year for those three."

Another possible benefit would be if the town decided to take the opportunity to invest in a "microgrid" system of transmission that could power fundamental town facilities during times the Connecticut Light & Power grid is down, like during storms. Such a plan would replace individual buildings' generators with a small plant powered by natural gas with the electricity generated transmitted to the several facilities underground.

Mark Robbins, chairman of the Connecticut Green Building Council, Green Homes Committee and a New Canaan resident, explained how a microgrid would work.

"The town already has its own electricity plants, which have zero return on investment. It's kind of mind-bending: What's the payback on having a generator? If you're lucky, you never use it and it's a sunk cost and there's no payback, it's sitting there, rusting," he said. "We could use a microgrid to connect mission-critical facilities and benefit from a shared energy source."

Mallozzi concurred.

"It would be wonderful to have a microgrid so we don't have to buy a million-dollar generator for the high school, he said in an interview. "That's absolutely a part and parcel of the discussion ... We would be looking to do exactly that, and Yankee Gas is very much in that same thought process."

There is some resistance to the plan in town. Resident Tanya Bickley distributed a letter voicing her concerns about the morality of using natural gas, more and more of which in recent years is coming via the method of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." While companies claim that the process of fracking, when done correctly, is clean and does not harm the environment, many environmentalists and scientists disagree.

"We're using a heating source whose extraction from the earth could be very dangerous," Bickley said in an interview. "Just because we live in a nice little town where we don't have gas wells, we think we don't have to think ethically and morally about it. We have a responsibility to decide what side of the fence we stand on with fracking."

Robbins said he didn't think that such an argument is persuasive enough to outweigh the benefits of pursuing the project, but offered an analogy that the morality of the actions behind the production of goods is something that ought to be considered. He gave the hypothetical example that if the town were buying chairs for the new Town Hall and learned that the chairs were made using child labor, the town might reconsider buying them.

That's the type of conversation Bickley wants the town to have.

"I grew up where our country was different, where the concept of the public good was in the public discussion," she said.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews