Selectman Tami Dristiliaris announced her opposition to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline on July 2. The rest of the board say they need more information to make
Selectman Tami Dristiliaris announced her opposition to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline on July 2. The rest of the board say they need more information to make their decisions. SUN/JOHN COLLINS

DRACUT -- Two weeks after Selectman Tami Dristiliaris declared her "strong" opposition to Kinder-Morgan's proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline coming to Dracut, legendary comedian Bill Cosby took an equally firm stand, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.

If Dristiliaris was hoping her fellow board members would soon join her and Cosby in opposing the pipeline, however, the first-year selectman may be in for a long wait, the Sun has learned.

Surveyed individually, Selectmen Joe DiRocco, Tony Archinski, Alison Hughes and Chairwoman Cathy Richardson each said they need to have multiple questions answered, and much more information provided, before they can feel properly prepared to make a decision.

On July 2, Dristiliaris, citing her "strong commitment to preserving Dracut's unique way of life, including agricultural and residential concerns," announced she will oppose the 129-mile natural-gas pipeline pipeline through Massachusetts that Kinder-Morgan is proposing to construct with its endpoint in Dracut.

Among the reasons Dristiliaris gave for her position, the pipeline is likely to have a negative impact on the town's groundwater and other natural resources, and "safety issues encountered recently at various compression stations," she said.

Also, "the proposed path tears up the natural beauty permanently in our (Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro) State Forest," Dristiliaris wrote.

DiRocco described Dristiliaris' firm stance against the pipeline as "premature."

"I really couldn't say I would support it, or not support it right now, until I get the information. So what Tami did was a little premature, in my opinion," DiRocco said.

"Nobody's answered the question: Is this pipeline more for exporting, or is this more for taking care of our region?" DiRocco said. "You hear one side saying the pipeline that's there now is big enough to take care of our needs; the other side is saying it isn't. I don't think any board member has enough information right now to vote either way."

Supporters of the $3.75 billion Northeast Pipeline Extension Project have said it will provide needed clean-burning natural gas to the northeast U.S.

Archinski predicted the town's information-gathering process on the project will improve as a result of the selectmen's unanimous, 5-0, vote last month to join the coalition of Northern Middlesex County Municipalities -- including the towns of Townsend, Pepperell, Groton, Ashby and North Reading -- in a collaborative effort to get their questions answered about the pipeline.

"I'm still in the process of information-gathering and believe joining this group will broaden our knowledge of the viewpoint of the pipeline-opposition folks," Archinski said. "I have been very careful not to garner facts from only one source."

Richardson said the town invited a regional representative of Kinder-Morgan to present a second informational session to residents on the pipeline, "but he respectfully declined to return to Dracut for an opportunity to visit with us," Richardson reported.

Richardson said she, too, remained in the information-gathering stage.

"I am especially concerned about references I've heard to Kinder-Morgan possibly taking land for this pipeline by way of eminent domain," Richardson said. "In my estimation, whenever the federal government takes land by eminent domain, it's based on reasons of national security. I have not been convinced there is a national security interest in this process. So I have a lot of questions."

Hughes said the big question she would like answered is how much power the Board of Selectmen actually has over the process.

"Is this something the federal government is pushing through, making this local discussion we're having all kind of futile?" Hughes said. "Do we really have any control over it? I need that answer before we proceed."

Julie Jette, who has been the town's leading resident-activist in opposition to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline to date, said she's "frustrated" by statements made by the four selectmen other than Dristiliaris that they don't have sufficient facts to take a position.

"To me, it's not left-wing, right-wing, or political at all," said Jette, "We have to live here, and our kids have to live here after we're gone. Kinder-Morgan plans to clear-cut a 125-foot-wide path through the state forest. They'll just push their way through, and poof! we're done."

Jette said she planned to meet with each selectman individually to offer them answers to their questions, based on her extensive reading and research on the pipeline process and its dangers.

"What worries me is the fact that though this pipeline is going through 26-plus towns where there is huge support to stop it, hardly any of the citizens here will stand up and help because we are afraid of what others think," Jette said. "What I hear from people in town is that 'there is no way to stop this,' but that is such a defeatist attitude."

Cosby and his wife Camille declared their support on Sunday for protesters from the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network who will be marching across Massachusetts at the end of this month in opposition to Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline. The group's walk will lead to a Statehouse rally planned for July 30.

The couple, who own hundreds of acres of protected land in Shelburne Falls, about 100 miles west of Boston, said they have been opposed to the pipeline since the company notified them last winter of plans to survey their land.

Through a spokesman, Bill and Camille Cosby said it was "astounding" that New England's six governors support the proposal, which they said shows "disrespect for humans, flora and fauna."

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