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Gas pipeline company sues Cambridge to get access to a bit of land in Lincoln near the city's reservoir

Two views of Cambridge's land, next to the gas-company site

Two views of Cambridge's land next to the gas-company site, from the company's affidavit.

Update: City responds.

A Texas gas-pipeline company yesterday asked a federal judge to order the city of Cambridge to let it cut down trees on a city-owned lot in Lincoln so it can haul in some pipeline equipment for installation on a neighboring parcel the company owns.

In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston, Algonquin Gas Transmission of Houston says the tree-filled quarter-acre Cambridge lot off Rte. 2 westbound - which the city uses as part of its buffer around its Hobbs Brook Reservoir along Routes 2 and 128 - is the only feasible spot for hauling in a new back-up "meter and regulator" station that can help monitor and control gas pressure in the company's pipelines, including those feeding Cambridge itself.

The company cites a federal law that lets private pipeline companies use eminent domain to construct and operate pipelines and related facilities in its demand for a "temporary workspace easement" to use the city lot. It filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to let it begin cutting down the trees immediately even as its lawsuit proceeds.

In an affidavit filed with the suit, Charles Peabody, an Algonquin project manager acknowledges, that Cambridge is refusing to allow access because it would require cutting down at least 55 trees. But Peabody writes that without the work, Cambridge and surrounding communities could be at risk of losing their gas supply next year, when the company is planning a major overhaul of some pipelines in the region, including the "meter and regulator" station that is normally in use.

Algonquin says the current equipment, at the connection of an Algonquin pipeline and one owned by another company, sits on a metal "sled" that was used to haul it to the site in the early 2000 and which was supposed to be temporary, but which was never replaced. Now, the wooden supports for the sled are rotting due to "continued exposure to the elements."

The $14.5-million project to replace the equipment would involve bringing in new equipment and using a crane on the Cambridge land to drop in a permanent building that would better protect the equipment - from both the elements and vandals - and mean less noise when the equipment is in use, Algonquin says. Peabody writes:

If the facility is not replaced in the near future, it will increasingly threaten the supply of natural gas to Cambridge and surrounding communities.

Algonquin says it wants to start the work next month and that the timing is vital, not just to allow for other pipeline maintenance in 2025, but because MassDOT will not allow work over the winter for fear it could interfere with snow and ice removal along Rte. 2.

Peabody writes that Algonquin first approached Cambridge last summer and held a number of meetings with Cambridge officials on the plans. He says the company reduced the proposed impact by agreeing to have the new station built off site and then brought there on a new "skid" and lowered onto the Algonquin site by a crane. It also managed to reduce the number of trees that needed to be cut down from 75 to 55, he avers.

But Cambridge wouldn't budge and, at a site visit on Feb. 27, city officials said they would not approve a project that meant even one tree getting cut down. He adds Algonquin made one last formal proposal on April 25, which included payment of $10,000 for the temporary easement, but that Cambridge again said no.

Complete complaint (592k PDF).
Complete affidavit (21M PDF).

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... sits on a metal "sled" that was used to haul it to the site in the early 2000 and which was supposed to be temporary, but which was never replaced.

So Algonquin has known about this problem for 24 years, but now it's an emergency?

PS Adam, the link to the affidavit is broken for me.

Voting closed 90

Sorry about that, and thanks for letting me know.

Voting closed 36

The trees are mostly on the far side of the little road off of Route 2.


Voting closed 28

$10,000? Nah. Give us a million bucks.

Then take the million bucks and use it to fund the electrification of buildings in Cambridge so that they use less/no natural gas.

Voting closed 63

$10,000 for over 50 trees is a pittance.

Remove, burlap, replace.
Maintain for 18 months.

Voting closed 53

Nah, son.

Mature trees cost thousands of dollars each. 55 of them would run well into six figures to "replace" (and the replacements would be a lot smaller).

All of that said, it continues to be moderately ridiculous that Cambridge maintains its own water supply because reasons and doesn't just use the Quabbin.

Voting closed 58

These smaller reservoirs resulted in fewer headaches in 2010, when several million people had to boil water.

Cambridge had to get on Quabbin water in 2016, too.

Redundancy isn't a bad thing.

Regardless, that Texas company needs to go pound sand.

Voting closed 48

For a once-every-few-decades boil water order.

Cambridge has long been able to get Quabbin water with the flip of a switch (well, probably the turning of a bunch of big valves). But Cambridge can't push water the other way; when the Quabbin system failed, it wasn't able to push back the other way. If Fresh Pond and the 128 road salt/PFAS catchment area was able to act as a regional redundancy the way that several other reservoirs do, it would make more sense I guess. But if it were a backup like the other redundant pieces of the system, then it probably wouldn't have the filtration and treatment and would still need to be boiled (I doubt the Cambridge Water Works could scale up to supply the region, anyway).

I am one of the people who can't tell the difference between the two sides, or just doesn't care, but I know there are several UHubers who will refuse to drink Cambridge water.

Voting closed 38

Quabbin actually costs Cambridge more to tap than maintaining their own system.

MWRA doesn't do surface water emergency storage anyway - except as maybe a backup to a backup. But being on the receiving end of that tank water was horrifying in 2010 - stuff was so full of algae that it was essentially unusable, boiled or not. I don't know if they fixed that problem, but we were going to a friend's place in Cambridge and filling bottles, and showering at work.

Voting closed 29

All those buildings in Kendall Square from which Cambridge is punch drunk of tax revenue are powered by...natural gas, as is the power plant in Kendall Square.

My money is on Algonquin here.

Power companies and railroads have much more power over local officials than you think or at least you want to believe.

Voting closed 41

They basically want to clear cut it for a temporary parking lot, not actually install or maintain anything on the land itself.

There is a difference.

I was involved with Mystic River Watershed when the Eversource conduit was coming through, and there was a lot of negotiation when the initial plans were to destroy a lot of park space just for storing and staging stuff away from the actual crossing installation site. There was a lot of push back to not destroy active riverside parkland areas out of convenience. This resulted in Eversource reducing the amount of space needed and renovating the community garden spaces that they had to move to put the conduit across, and timing the crossing to avoid disrupting the herring run. Meanwhile, Eversource found alternative sites that they could rent for storing and staging gear (disused parking lots, basically) that had far less environmental and community impact and didn't require costly reconstruction.

Algonquin isn't even fucking trying here, and isn't even compensating Cambridge for the full value of what they are destroying. They think they are still in Texas.

Voting closed 80

They basically want to clear cut it for a temporary parking lot, not actually install or maintain anything on the land itself.

There is a difference.

Cambridge might legally have no choice at all but to deny the request. Article 97 of the Constitution protects open space, conservation land, and parkland into perpetuity and may prohibit any adverse action by the stewards of land protected by the Article.

Voting closed 25

How old are the trees? It looks like they've been there longer than 20 years. If they managed to get the existing equipment in there without clear-cutting the area, they should be able to do it again.

Voting closed 22

That's how far back Google Streetview goes.

This view from leaf-off season in 2012 shows that back then the trees were mature, too.

These look like oaks mostly. A 10" dbh (diameter at breast height) oak is about 75-100 years old (see here), 16" 100-125.

Stony Brook was acquired in the late 1880s, before which it was probably pasture land and farmland, although it may have reverted to forested land before then. Assuming that it has remained mostly untouched since Cambridge bought it but did not have significant tree cover at that point, then we'd expect to see oaks in the 10 to 20" range, but not larger. (Large oaks spread out; there are two huge oaks on the Appalachian Trail, the Dover Oak and the Keffer Oak, which have dbh of like 6 feet, which is off of the above chart, but probably in the 300+ year old range. (The Dover Oak appears to have lost some limbs in recent years.) The Charter Oak in Connecticut was big in the late 1600s and lived another two centuries before falling in a tropical storm.

Voting closed 18

They take everyone to federal court. God forbid you don't want an M&R Station, which releases gas into the neighborhood on your block. They are noisy - it won't be quieter. Ask them for an evacuation plan.

Voting closed 21

Interesting name for a Texas company doing work in MA. Appropriated indigenous name regardless but a north east transplant company avoiding taxes in Texas?

Voting closed 23

As a resident of Lincoln, I can assure you that the town flips out if you cut down a dead tree threatening your home, so they will certainly pitch a certified fit over 55 mature trees.

Voting closed 24

...Lincoln has town meeting, where pitching a fit might do something. Cambridge does not.

If Lincoln hasn't had town meeting yet, this might be the cause for some good fireworks.

Voting closed 20

The Town of Lincoln, through its Conservation Commission, almost certainly has jurisdiction over conservation matters here, just as it would over any other property owner that owns protected land within its corporate bounds. (and I'm not countering anything you're saying above, it can just get a little confusing when it comes to discussing municipalities owning property in other municipalities)

Voting closed 20

it can just get a little confusing when it comes to discussing municipalities owning property in other municipalities

Sure is. That would be a painful town meeting to have to sit through, but potentially a fun one to be a fly on the wall for.

(my town meeting is in two weeks. I'm bringing snacks and some light reading)

Voting closed 16

So, when the lines over pressurize and Cambridge gas users' properties explode . . .

Voting closed 19

These gas transmission lines don't feed directly into homes, they transport gas over long distances and deliver them to wholesale customers like National Grid and other utilities, they're more akin to high tension wires that deliver electricity from power plants to the utility companies, who then distribute it. District gas utilities like National Grid and Eversource then distribute the gas they purchase through their own systems. The Dorchester Gas Tank is supplied by one of these transmission lines. If you want to see where transmission lines are anywhere in the country, the US Department of Transportation maintains a nifty map that shows all gas and hazardous liquid pipelines by state and county.

Voting closed 28

Voting closed 16

Those explosions were caused primarily by a faulty maintenance procedure, not worn-out equipment.

Voting closed 24

You can just say 'nay' you don't have to pearl clutch. It is entirely an optional step that you've added.

Voting closed 13