Pipeline maintenance cuts path through quiet neighborhood in Lynnfield

The stump of a burning bush at Helen Pimental's Durham Drive home in Lynnfield is left after crews cut down trees in her yard to make a clearing for the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNNFIELD — Durham Drive is the definition of a postcard perfect suburban neighborhood, with homeowners carefully tending to decades-old arborvitaes and sitting under the shade of favorite oak trees.

But now there is a 30-foot swath of uprooted shrubberies and chainsawed trees through the neighborhood heading toward Reading. The vegetation removal is part of a maintenance project on a natural gas pipeline that’s been buried underground since the 1950s.

“It has just changed this area of the neighborhood,” said Ann Loomos, who has lived in her Durham Drive home since the early 1970s. “I’m upset. If this was an act of God, you would look at it and say thank goodness everyone is OK. This is the first time in all the years I’ve lived here that they’ve done this (vegetation management). I’ll get used to it, but it’s not the same.”

Talk about the vegetation management project on the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which runs from Louisiana up to Canada, first surfaced in town last year.

“In early August, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company notified town officials and all landowners that have a pipeline easement on their property of the vegetation management work that is planned or underway in the Lynnfield area,” said Sara Hughes, a spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based company that owns the pipeline. “All of the work is being conducted under the terms of the original right-of-way agreements.”

The work being done along the right of way includes the trimming of trees and occasional removal of trees, according to Hughes. She said this type of work is typical for pipeline companies and allows for the aerial patrol along the pipelines to observe surface conditions for any indications of leaks, third-party construction activity, erosion, and other factors that might affect the safe operation of the pipeline.

“I understand there is an easement, I’ve owned the property for 45 years,” said Loomos. “Even though there is the right of way, I’ve respected it and it has never been a problem. But this was still an infringement.”

Loomos’ next door neighbor, Helen Pimental said she lost a 15-foot rhododendron, two birch trees, and other trees and shrubbery in her front yard.

“People walk by and say they are so sorry, the whole neighborhood is like this,” said Pimental.

Pimental and Loomos both said they expected that there would be the loss of some vegetation as part of the project, but not to the extent that took place when work crews came through the neighborhood earlier this week.

“I go out there and I feel like it’s naked,” said Loomos.

Another neighbor, who did not wish to give her name, said she was heartbroken at the extent of damage to her property and felt like moving.

The crews are currently making their way to Main Street, where they will cross over to Apple Hill Lane and then make their way toward Reading.

“Over the years, the tree canopy extends over the top of the pipeline right of way and limits the effectiveness of our aerial patrols, which then necessitates the trimming of trees,” said Hughes. “In addition, trees and large vegetation growing within the easement must also be removed, because the root systems can damage the pipeline coating.”

Selectman Phil Crawford said town officials spoke with representatives from Kinder Morgan and Tennessee Pipeline in the late spring when it became clear that the vegetation management project would be making its way through a part of Lynnfield.

“A lot of people have had vegetation taken out of their side and backyards, and they have understood why,” said Crawford. “But the three houses on Durham Drive, two of them lost a lot in their front yard and one in their front and side yard.”

Crawford said officials went to town counsel to discuss the work, but with the easement for the right of way, there is not a lot the town can do, other than trying to work with everyone involved to make sure they don’t take out more vegetation than is necessary.

But the Durham Drive residents said it is already too late for them.

“I hope the people on Apple Hill know what’s coming,” said Pimental.

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