EPPING — Brooks Gagne had done his homework when he stepped through the doors of Josiah’s Meetinghouse. The Epping resident’s biggest question on the Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline and storage tank project was about the tank itself. The tank is slated to be built in an abandoned quarry in Epping.
“Will they be able to keep the liquid natural gas cool in a power failure?” Gagne asked.
Liberty Utilities held the first of several community meetings on its proposed natural gas pipeline Wednesday. While much of the crowd consisted of laborers looking for jobs and environmental activists concerned about the pipeline’s health and safety impact, a handful of local residents asked about the pipeline and storage facility’s impact on their back yards.
Granite Bridge would connect existing in-state infrastructure with a new pipeline proposed to be buried in the state’s right-of-way along Route 101 between Stratham and Manchester.
Liberty Utilities staff members at booths fielded questions about the project’s aspects, including an overview, timelines, environmental impact, safety and the storage tank. Sandra Cray of Epping watched as her husband Cliff chatted with Michael Licata of Liberty Utilities.
Sandy Cray expressed a cautious optimism. “It might be a good thing,” she said of the pipeline. “I want to learn all I can about it.” She’s more concerned about the storage tank, which will be at the end of her road, she said, but added, “We do have to look to the future.”
The future is a ways off, Licata told Cliff Cray. “First, we have to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission and that is underway,” he said. “Then, we have to be approved by the state Site Evaluation Committee, and they just rejected the Northern Pass, so that’s not a rubber stamp.” Licata estimated after approval from both bodies, it would take two years to construct the pipeline and three years to build the tank.
“This touches Brentwood,” said Russ Kelly, a resident of that town. “We obviously have a vested interest in getting information about the project.”
While he hadn’t formed a final opinion, Kelly said he is “generally supportive” of the idea. He works in the energy industry and understands the concerns, he said.
Longtime Epping resident Elaine Gatchell wasn’t so sure. “It will be Seabrook all over again,” she said. “It will end up costing us.”
Joan Pratt of Exeter, a former Brentwood resident, said she’s concerned on a number of levels. “I’m not excited about natural gas to begin with,” she said, noting she opposes fracking. She’s also not convinced, with forms of fossil-free energy in development, that natural gas will be needed through the project’s 40- to 50-year lifespan. “We are moving away from fossil fuels and it would be a big mistake to over-build and then not need them,” Pratt said.
“They are trying to solve 21st-century energy problems with 19th-century solutions,” Epping resident Emily Lowe said.
“We want the work,” said union member Claudia Mackie of South Berwick, Maine. Fellow union member Ron Bowie added, “The pipeline will bring more work and steady paychecks.”
Other interested parties came from across southern New Hampshire, including environmental educator Julia Steed Mawson of Pelham. Mawson, a former educator with the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, said she is learning more about pipelines in New Hampshire in general so she can make better decisions about what might happen in her own town.
“What affects one community will affect another,” she said. “This area is one of our treasures.”'
Mawson, who helped fight the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, urged local residents to get involved. “Make sure we’re all educated,” she said. “It’s really important to connect the dots.”
Peter White of Nottingham is a member of the Nottingham Water Alliance and New Hampshire Community Rights Network, an organization promoting local town ordinances to block developments that harm safety and nature.
“Liquid natural gas is dangerous,” White said. “One human error or one mechanical error could be like a nuclear bomb.”
Members of ECHO Action, a group working for a fossil-free New Hampshire, had a table outside the building.
Sue Fleck, Liberty Utilities president for New Hampshire, said she was pleased with the turnout. “It gives us a chance to learn what people’s interests are, what they want to find out more about,” she said.
“I am trying to keep an open mind,” Gagne said, noting he would like to see a Town Meeting-type forum, where residents could ask questions in a more in-depth format.
Fleck said meetings planned for each of the prospective host communities.