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John Phelan, Wikipedia
The Old Central Fire Station in Pittsfield, home of 1Berkshire and its partner organization, Berkshire Creative, Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, as well as Berkshire Bank.

Pipeline giant, Kinder Morgan, invests in 1Berkshire business, cultural alliance

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By Monday, Feb 2, 2015 News 9

Pittsfield — An energy giant in the midst of developing and seeking regulatory approval for a controversial $5 billion gas pipeline project that would run through part of northern Berkshire County is a recent investor in 1Berkshire, the not-for-profit, economic development organization composed of Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, and which encompasses 1,500 local businesses.

1Berkshire spokesman and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Jonathan Butler said Kinder Morgan Energy approached 1Berkshire, asking at what level they could become a “leadership circle investor.” The leadership circle is the highest level of investment, Butler said, and requires a $20,000 annual donation, which Kinder Morgan gave around “late summer, early fall.” Kinder Morgan is one of nine investors in this category.

“We don’t turn people away,” Butler added. “We welcome anybody’s investment. If they are doing legal business, we accept it just as we would for those organizations who are opposed to the pipeline.”

“It’s not to our advantage to take positions on things,” he added.

1Berkshire’s mission, Butler said, is to create a “healthy environment for businesses and entrepreneurs. The idea is to align all the critical pieces that make up economic development.”

The proposed path of the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline, that would convey fracked gas from Pennsylvania, through the Berkshires, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, to eastern New England.

The proposed path of the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline, that would convey fracked gas from Pennsylvania, through the Berkshires, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, to eastern New England.

Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company is developing the Northeast Energy Direct Project, or NED, a 429-mile pipeline expressway using both existing and new infrastructure and corridors. The system would carry hydro-fractured gas from the “fracking” fields of Pennsylvania up through New York, into northern Berkshire where it would then swing up to New Hampshire and come back through Massachusetts to a hub in Dracut. From there it moves northeast up to Nova Scotia. The company says the project will increase availability of natural gas in New England and lower prices for consumers, but pipeline opponents say much of the gas will be for export, and will mostly benefit the industry.

A related controversy is the theory that the hike in this winter’s electricity prices is a form of blackmail by an industry that wants an excessive pipeline build out to carry that extra gas for export. Others have suggested we may be witnessing “Enron-style price gouging,” the possibility of which U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) urged a federal inquiry into last May.

1Berkshire does not take political stances, Butler said, “unless there are issues that affect the business landscape in the Berkshires — then we get involved.”

But Butler has only been with the Berkshire Chamber and 1Berkshire since last September. In January 2011, 1Berkshire quietly received $300,000 from General Electric and then proceeded to develop a public relations and social media campaign to oppose dredging GE’s PCB pollution from the Housatonic River. The 1Berkshire support of General Electric appeared as a Facebook campaign called Smart Clean Up Coalition, which recommended a minimal clean up, and hasn’t had a post since 2012. Later that year, then-1Berkshire Chairman Michael Daly (and CEO of Berkshire Bank) admitted that GE was a 1Berkshire founding partner and had, indeed, been a backer. The donation, and the pressure on 1Berkshire directors to support GE’s position, sparked the resignation of two directors, both members of Berkshire Creative.

Though GE is still pushing its weight around in the ongoing river cleanup drama, Butler said GE is no longer a part of 1Berkshire. “There is no [GE] presence, no formal relationship between the Chamber and GE at this point,” he claimed.

“When issues like [the pipeline] pop up, we don’t really take a side,” Butler continued. “We act as a convener and educator with controversial issues. We don’t try to make [people’s] minds up.”

But it appears Kinder Morgan’s presence as an “investor” on 1Berkshire’s website has led to speculation that both 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce are “pipeline supporters.”

“It’s not true,” Butler said, “and I am the spokesman for both organizations. We have consciously not taken a position.”

So what does Kinder Morgan stand to gain from the alliance?

“Kinder Morgan has provided 1Berkshire with information to pass their perspective along,” Butler said. “Education is our role. Their investment did not entitle them to making us advocates for their project.”

A compressor station along the route of the pipeline is planned for Northfield, Mass.

A compressor station along the route of the pipeline is planned for Northfield, Mass.

1Berkshire isn’t alone; Kinder Morgan gave The Berkshire Museum $2,500 in 2013. And a quick perusal of CitizenAudit.org reveals the Kinder Morgan Foundation’s many donations to schools and art organizations across the country, often in potential pipeline project areas. The Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Mass., for instance, also received $2500 in 2013. According to FracTracker Alliance’s map, Kinder Morgan plans to build a gas compressor station in Northfield. These stations help move the gas and pressurize it, and involve an infrastructure of turbines, engines and motors.

Kinder Morgan is attempting to educate the public on its own, as well; the company is holding open houses in towns near its proposed pipeline route. One is scheduled for Feb. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Junior-Senior High School in New Lebanon, N.Y., 14665, Route 22; another on Feb. 10, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Berkshire Community College cafeteria, 1350 West Street, Pittsfield.

Pipeline opposition group, Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline, is holding a “Pipeline Public Forum” on Feb. 5 at Town Hall in Stephentown, N.Y., 26 Grange Hall Road.

“The pipeline is one of multiple potential solutions,” to what Butler called a “capacity issue, and however it is solved, it is an important issue for businesses here.” He said businesses have come to them with concerns “mostly about the cost of power.”

“We get calls in my office every day about the cost of electricity,” said Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox).

While Pignatelli said he wouldn’t “make too much” of Kinder Morgan’s local influence, he does see the connection between high electricity prices and the industry cry for more pipeline. He said the Department of Utilities approval of these rate hikes amounts to “corporate collusion,” and are “eerily familiar” to rate hikes of about 10 years ago that “broke the camel’s back,” at the Schweitzer-Mauduit paper mill in Lee, driving them out of business, and nearly doing the same to Crane Paper Company in Pittsfield.

Berkshire Creative logo

The Northeast Energy Direct Project would take about five years from now to get up and running after all was said and done, Pignatelli noted. “So when I hear that a lack of natural gas is justification for exorbitant rate increases, my question to Western Mass Electric and National Grid is, where were you five years ago? If we need more natural gas here, where is your corporate planning?”

Berkshire Creative Director Julia Dixon declined comment for this article, asked that its board members not be contacted, and referred all questions to Butler.


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9 Comments   Add Comment

  1. NFGiM says:

    “1Berkshire does not take political stances, Butler said, ‘unless there are issues that affect the business landscape in the Berkshires — then we get involved.’ ” What does he think the impacts of this will be?! Over-reliance on gas is what has all customers, including businesses paying through the nose for electricity right now, and we want to increase our susceptibility to fuel price swings? Property values drop 10-30% around transmission lines like this. The scenic and wild virtues of an area that relies on these for a substantial portion of the economy damaged for good. Why would 1Berkshires or any of it’s LOCAL business members think there are no impacts of a massive, dangerous, polluting infrastructure designed to primarily feed foreign markets?

  2. George Wislocki says:

    Not surprised by Kinders investment in 1Berkshire. 1Berkshire is a hardball group which pretends to be a Berkshire quality of life initiative.

  3. Nater says:

    Berkshire County is getting more scenic by the day as we lose population and opportunity, no need to worry about that. I drove up to Williamstown recently, traveling up Rt 7 and back on Rt 8, and the number of derelict properties and businesses for sale was surprising. The area is depopulating. We could frack for gas in Lanesboro and no one would know it.

    Look at Europe, they are struggling to prospect for gas in Poland. I would support exporting some of our fracked gas to them to help them fight Gazprom.

    I don’t think the pipeline is dangerous, based on MA environmental regulations. Imagine the national news if a KM pipeline leaked into a water supply. MA would basically seize the entire company’s assetts.

    1. The Enviro Show says:

      <>
      Have you read the “MA Global Warming Solutions Act”? How about this : https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2015/01/boston-s-natural-gas-infrastructure-releases-high-levels-of-heat-trapping-methane
      Wake up, Nater! (O, and forget about participating in dangerous international trade wars that only profit corporations like Kinder Morgan while bringing all of us to the brink of a nuclear shooting war)

      1. Nater says:

        The report cites the “aging” natural gas infrastructure for the 2.5% loss rate. This, to me, supports the idea of investing in NEW distribution networks such as the pipeline. It also notes how much cleaner nat gas is than coal and oil.
        I don’t think people appreciate the concept of “redundancy”. With something as critical as our regional heating system, we need multiple backup systems. Solar, geothermal, wind, algae etc will always need carbon based primary systems.

      2. Nater says:

        MA GWSA was very interesting, thanks.

  4. George H. says:

    That the Berkshires are losing population is true. There are no new jobs and taxes are going up. Admit it, it’s true.
    We are talking about a pipeline. It’s under ground. It will run along existing power line cuts.
    Every town along the route will welcome the taxes paid by the pipeline owners. Every dollar paid will be one not paid by the town’s inhabitants. I know for a fact that it’s true.
    All this talk about “fracked” gas being evil is utter nonsense. Cheap energy will save our economy and take money out of the pockets of international terrorists and leaders like Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez’s successors. Face it, it’s true.
    You can rant and hate all you like but you have a losing argument. Get over it.

  5. Tracy says:

    Great Reporting!

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