Oral history project revisits Kinder Morgan pipeline opposition

 Court Dorsey from Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

 Court Dorsey from Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

 Joan Levy shares an interview from Steve Stoia’s oral history project, which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016.

Joan Levy shares an interview from Steve Stoia’s oral history project, which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016. STAFF PHOTOS/MARY BYRNE

Area residents gathered Sunday night for a presentation of Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016.

Area residents gathered Sunday night for a presentation of Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

 Area residents gathered Sunday night for a presentation of Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016.

Area residents gathered Sunday night for a presentation of Steve Stoia’s oral history project, “The People vs. The Pipeline,” which included perspectives of several Franklin County residents during the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline between 2014 and 2016. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-14-2023 3:08 PM

NORTHFIELD — Residents from Northfield and surrounding communities packed the Community Bible Church Sunday night for what felt like a second hurrah seven years after the defeat of the Kinder Morgan NED Pipeline.

“It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces,” said resident and activist Cate Woolner. “It feels like a class reunion.”

Woolner and others gathered at the church for a production of “The People vs. The Pipeline,” an oral history of the events that transpired between 2014 and 2016 with respect to the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

The 400-mile-long, 30-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline was expected to run through eight Franklin County towns as it carried a projected 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas from Wright, New York, to Dracut each day. The proposed project ultimately failed in 2016 largely due to public opposition.

Woolner said the oral history project began with resident Steve Stoia’s desire to weave the events of those two years into the Northfield 350th celebration. The project was funded in part by individual donations, along with the Grassroots New England Fund.

Stories from those years were collected by Carrie and Michael Kline, who also opened the evening with an original song, titled “Dominion Pipeline Blues.”

The recollections reflected “only a small number of folks who felt impacted by this pipeline,” said Woolner, who narrated the evening. Sharing perspectives were Stoia, former Northfield Town Manager Brian Noble, Cummington activist Rosemary Wessel, and former Selectboard member Jed Proujansky, among others.

The presentation was told in three parts — The Sting, Bait and Switch, and David Beats Goliath — and opened with a table of seven individuals, each dawning black hats to distinguish themselves as Kinder Morgan representatives. The conversation between them demonstrated naivety to the residents in the communities where they hoped to build the pipeline. Jokes were made to imply there would be no resistance from local residents.

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Transitioning out of the black caps, then, the cast relayed the stories of local people interviewed as part of the oral history project, from the early days of research and understanding to the four-day, 46-mile walk between Windsor and Northfield, following the approximate path for which the pipeline was proposed. Recollections ranged from how someone learned about the proposed pipeline and the impact it may have on tribal land, to where they were when they learned it had been defeated.

Despite federal laws on the side of Kinder Morgan, Woolner recalled that “we were not ready to give up.” Protests continued, including a “die-in” at Northfield Elementary School, and the formation of The Sugar Shack Alliance, a coalition dedicated to preventing the Kinder Morgan NED Pipeline.

“I think the willingness to learn, and connect with each other, had the consequence of a regional movement emerging,” Steve Roberto, a Northfield activist, shared in his interview for the project.

Ultimately, it was “the court of public opinion” that shut the project down, according to one interview.

“It was a real education of the power of people,” Noble said in his interview for the project. “We outlasted them … We worked very hard to make our discontent known in Washington.”

According to Stoia, the story offered “a blueprint for people who feel, or are told, they’re too small to make a difference.”

Closing out the presentation, Woolner put out a call to action to help prevent Lowell-based New Leaf Energy’s interest in building a 105-megawatt battery storage facility at 68 Wendell Depot Road. A meeting on the subject is scheduled to take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Wendell Meetinghouse.

“We hope this recounting gives you some hope and some strategies to fight Goliath,” Woolner said.

Resident Joe Graveline, whose recollection was also included in the project, said after the presentation that he appreciated “the energy” in the room on Sunday.

“The very fact that every one of you has a voice is wonderful,” he said.

A video of the event on Sunday will eventually be available on the Northfield 350 website, or www.northfield350.org.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.