Delayed construction on gas pipeline worries lobstermen
BOSTON (AP) Construction delays on a 30-mile gas pipeline under Massachusetts Bay are worrying lobstermen and environmentalists, who say the open ditches and exposed pipeline on the sea floor would block lobsters migrating inshore and harm other marine life.
The 30-inch diameter natural gas pipeline was scheduled to be buried under the seabed by May 1, before lobsters start migrating. But severe winter weather and unexpected drilling problems delayed construction, the company laying the pipeline said, leaving several miles of pipeline exposed under water and piles of sediment and trenches scattered along the pipeline's stretch from Weymouth to Beverly.
The company, Algonquin Gas Transmission, now expects to finish the project by fall, said spokesman John Sheridan.
The company has agreed to pay the state $5 million, to assess the damage to underwater life caused by the delay and fix any problems. It is also working to finish to complete construction in certain areas, including Deer Island, Weymouth and Beverly before prime season.
"We're working hard with our goal of getting in and out and letting them do their job," Sheridan said.
More than 200 lobstermen work in the pipeline area, catching about one-third of the 20 million pounds of lobster caught annually between Cape Ann and Plymouth. They say that as prime lobster season approaches, many lobsters migrating inshore could be diverted away or trapped, crushed and buried in the ditches.
"They may not come into the harbor because of the construction," said Bernie Feeney, a lobsterman for 25 years and president of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association. "Or if they do migrate here at all, the swirling mud could affect them, they could get trapped in the ditches, anything could happen."
Feeney said he appreciates the company's effort to finish the project quickly. But lobstermen remain worried about possible long term effects.
Since female lobsters usually go to the same site every year to reproduce, some coastal areas might see their lobster population decrease for several years if that reproductive cycle is broken, said lobster biologist Joseph Ayers, of the Nahant Conservation Commission, a town advisory board established to protect area natural resources.
The commission, expecting weather-related construction delays, had struck a deal with Algonquin that if the pipeline was not finished by May 1, the company would have to ensure that lobsters trapped in ditches in the Nahant waters had passages to get out, Ayers said. Sheridan said that will be done.
The pipeline project, the first of its kind to cut across Massachusetts Bay, will continue a 600-mile gas pipeline that runs from Sable Island, off Nova Scotia, to Dracut. The new pipeline will connect to the Greater Boston area, through an underground 25-mile portion running from Methuen to Beverly and the offshore portion, called the HubLine, running from Beverly to Weymouth.
Once completed, the pipeline will stretch to the Exelon Energy power plant now under construction in Weymouth, and tie in to Algonquin's 1,000-mile gas distribution system that serves southern New England.
Some environmentalist groups say that they support the pipeline's purpose of delivering clean natural gas to the Boston area but the construction delay is a no-win situation.
On one hand, lobster migration would be harmed if construction is postponed until winter. But as construction continues through the summer, humpback whales, sea turtles and other marine life would be disturbed by the swirling sediment, changes in water oxygen level and loud drilling, said Carol Lee Rawn, of the Conservation Law Foundation.
Bruce Berman, spokesman for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, said he's disappointed that marine life will suffer because the company didn't keep its promise.
"Energy independence and economic health are important," he said, "but never to be traded off against the environment."
Copyright Associated Press