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Natural gas plan sparks opposition at Rockland forum

By Stephen Betts | Feb 23, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts More than 100 people turned out for a virtual meeting of the Rockland City Council concerning a proposal to extend a natural gas pipeline to the Midcoast.

Rockland — A proposal to extend a natural gas pipeline to the Midcoast was met with a huge online turnout Feb. 23 with the overwhelming sentiment in opposition to the project.

More than 100 people logged on to the Feb. 23 meeting, where Summit Natural Gas made a presentation on its proposal. This was the largest turnout for a Rockland City Council online meeting since it began meeting that way in March 2020.

The meeting attracted people from around the region. This is the first formal presentation since Summit announced its plans Feb. 5. Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said he expects there will be more meetings on this proposal.

Of the 40 people who spoke at the online meeting, 36 spoke against the natural gas line project. More than a dozen letters were read by the city manager with most of them also in opposition to the project. Another dozen members posted chats on the Zoom page of the meeting in opposition to the project.

City Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf asked Summit representatives if the company would still extend the pipeline to Rockland even if the community did not want the service. Lizzy Reinholt of Summit responded that state regulations allow utilities to expand to communities where there is no similar service. She said since there are no natural gas providers in the Midcoast, Summit can expand to the region.

Councilor Nate Davis said he was strongly opposed to the project. He asked the City Council to get legal advice on whether it can ban the burning of natural gas in Rockland as a way to stop the project.

The meeting lasted for more than four hours.

Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, pointed out that Maine has committed to reduce pollution and natural gas would worsen the problem.

State Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, a former city councilor, also voiced opposition to the natural gas plan. She said the investment in fossil fuel infrastructure needing to bring natural gas to Rockland would take away investment from heat pumps, insulation, better windows and solar.

She said the time to consider natural gas a bridge fuel from oil to renewable energy has long passed.

Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, said the natural gas pipeline goes against the state's four-year climate action plan, pointing out that natural gas production is a powerful greenhouse gas producer.

"This is a giant step backward," Doudera said.

Bill Hahn, a selectman of Thomaston, pointed out the environmental damage done from hydraulic fracking including to water and air.

Thomaston Selectwoman Zel Bowman-Laberge said the community, through its comprehensive plan, has called for the town to move to 100% renewable energy. She pointed out how the town has approved a municipal solar farm project.

Josh Gerritsen, a selectman from Lincolnville who pointed out he was speaking for himself, said he strongly opposed extending a natural gas pipeline through the Midcoast.

"Swapping one fossil fuel for another makes no sense," he said.

Amy Files of Rockland said the project was morally and ethically wrong. She said the communities need to phase out fossil fuels.

"Common sense would say that if you want to phase out fossil fuels you can't create new infrastructure for fossil fuel," Files said.

Brian Fuller of Rockland said he too strongly opposed the proposed project. He said this would have a harmful impact on the environment and all the people who are dependent on that — including fishermen, hunters, hikers, skiers, bicyclists and families.

Hallie Arno of Lincolnville said the debate should be re-framed not as the environment versus the economy, but instead focus on the negative impact that fossil fuels have on the climate and fisheries. In addition, she said renewable energy projects would also create jobs and boost the economy.

A speaker, who identified herself only as Suzanne from Belfast, praised Rockland for holding a forum for the public. She said Belfast has held no such meeting and that city's mayor has already voiced support for the natural gas pipeline extension.

A letter from Front Street Shipyard in Belfast voiced support for the project, saying it would bring another fuel option to industries.

The four speakers in support of the project were affiliated with two unions that could provide labor for the pipeline project.

Summit claimed the project would result in a $90 million investment in the communities and create 100 well paying jobs.

Summit representatives said it hopes to break ground on the pipeline in the fall. Construction in Rockland would not commence until 2022. Keith Lincoln of Summit said when lines are installed, about 300 feet of line are installed per day so construction would move from one location to another each day.

Chace Jackson with Summit said Feb. 5 that in addition to running a pipeline down to the Midcoast communities, there will also need to be two regulator stations that will each sit on a half acre to one acre parcels and are used to convert the high pressure gas to lower pressure that can then be distributed to neighborhoods.

He said one station would likely be in Belfast, or very close to Belfast, and the other centrally located to Rockland, Thomaston, Camden and Rockport. Jackson said the regulator centers would likely be sited in an industrial or business park.

By 2026, Summit hopes to have made service available to more than 6,500 customers and extended their footprint into the towns of Lincolnville and Northport.

Lizzy Reinholt of Summit Gas said she does not know how much of the natural gas distributed by the company comes from fracking.

In May 2015, Rockland Energy Center LLC., which was affiliated with Energy Management Inc. of Boston, came to the city proposing a natural gas power plant to be located at the City Hall and adjacent Public Works garage property. That plan was met by considerable opposition by the public and the company dropped its plans.

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Comments (13)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Feb 25, 2021 13:51

The massive natural gas pipeline failures in Texas, during the historic winter storm, were due to fuel shortages and lack of preparation - since 20111 -  advance winter prep to keep pipeline component parts from freezing. Source: Texas Tribune

-Phyllis Merriam

Posted by: THOMAS MARSHALL, JR | Feb 25, 2021 08:18

In light of the failure of renewable energy in Texas, we should be focused on the overall management of our power grid.  We should be looking to a mix of renewable and thermal energy production with risk management for long term stability.  Yes, thermal includes small nuclear reactors (SMRs) and high-efficiency GAS turbines for electric electric generation.  SMRs are far from your grandfather’s Chernobyl plants of the past.  With oversight by the USGS, BLM, USFS, USFWS and states oversight, the risks of fracking are monitored and mediated far better than a bunch of hysterical enviro “protectionists” would have one to believe.  The source of gas is not as important as its distribution and uses.  The ability of the grid to support thousands of electric cars plugging in at night is really something to worry about.  BTW, GM says all of its production will be electric by 2035.  Better get 200 amp service in your house now!

Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Feb 24, 2021 12:04

It is against all Science and research across the world...the costs of damage to this planet are far beyond triple++ the amount this corporation claims it would bring to the midcoast...,projected%20global%20GDP%20in%202050.


Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Feb 24, 2021 10:32

Dear... do you smell something? What's that hissing sound? ssssssssSSSSSSSS ....... KABOOOOOOOOMMMM....

Posted by: Valerie Wass | Feb 24, 2021 10:10

I looked up fossil fuel and I read more articles that said that it was very bad for the environment and the public health.  I would like to know if this is true. 

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Feb 24, 2021 09:19

Thank you Mr. Hefner.  As you said, the fiasco in Texas this past week should be enough to show the limitations of so called renewable energy.  The huge reduction in carbon emissions that the U.S. has already achieved is directly related to the conversion taking place with natural gas.

Posted by: Ken L Bishop | Feb 24, 2021 08:23

I have earned through the years that naysayers will always be more aggressive and have the loudest voices on any matter while the folks that are neutral or in favor of progress are generally quiet and reserved.  With social media promotion and Zoom meetings it is very easy to create what looks like a majority when it is really not.  I hope the city counsels and boards in the area are sophisticated enough to realize that.  Thank you Mr. Heffner and Mr. York for stepping up.  Proponents of change are going to have to step up and be heard above the noise.

Posted by: C R Hefner Jr | Feb 24, 2021 08:03

Opposition to clean natural gas as the fuel of the future to heat homes and business in the Central Coast is nothing short of silly. Such opposition is born out of ignorance and a “me too” mentality that causes folks to jump on the band wagon simply because others do. Apparently burning wood or coal to heat homes is preferable?  Or having huge heavy propane trucks drive neighborhood streets constantly is better?  I suspect financial interest is behind much of this opposition - not science because science is in the side of clean gas. Folks natural gas is cleaner, cheaper and far less dangerous both to our streets, noise levels snd climate than any other fuel. As Texas proved this past week wind and solar have their place in the energy mix but are totally unreliable at the most critical times. I hope calmer heads will prevail in this discussion for the sake of all of our futures.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Feb 24, 2021 05:20

Elizabeth and T.A. Schwab,

The city's attorney did not indicate that the city could reject a street opening permit if it met DOT requirements.

Steve Betts

Posted by: James York | Feb 23, 2021 23:27

"Councilor Nate Davis said he was strongly opposed to the project. He asked the City Council to get legal advice on whether it can ban the burning of natural gas in Rockland as a way to stop the project." Wow, what an outrageous position Councilor Davis. How many restaurants you going to shutter with that proposal, how many homes and Businesses you going you force to convert to Propane, wood or good oil Carbon thick 2 or number 6 oil. Natural gas is already here being trucked in daily by tractor trailer. We need a pragmatic approach that keeps our city competitive with a keen eye on our environment.  It is absolutely foolish to suggest a ban on burning natural gas in the city.

Posted by: T A Schwab | Feb 23, 2021 23:17

Thank you Elizabeth Dickerson!

Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Feb 23, 2021 22:05

No, TA Schwab, because Rockland is an Urban Compact Zone. The municipality can deny the permit because in other cases, the permit would be granted by MDOT, but since Rockland is Urban Compact Zone, Rockland grants permits for street openings/utilities instead of MDOT. Rockland could deny that permit on a variety of very plausible legal grounds.

Posted by: T A Schwab | Feb 23, 2021 22:00

So am I understanding this correctly, we get it even if the majority don’t want it? like the cell tower? Only other option is we take them to court to fight it?

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