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Activists Protest Pipeline At Public Service Board Meeting

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Vermont Gas

A number of protesters and activists this week were at the Vermont Public Service Board as it met with Vermont Gas for a routine meeting about its natural gas pipeline permit review.

In 2012 Vermont Gas filed a petition for approval to build a 43-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. The project’s estimated cost at that time was just under $84 million.
According to the budget summary presented to the Public Service Board on January 21st, current Phase 1 costs are now projected to be over $153 million.  

The Public Service Board is conducting a review of the company’s permits and the meeting this week, according to Vermont Gas Spokesperson Beth Parent, was a status conference to determine future dates as the review continues.  “Over the course of the winter we’ve been conducting horizontal directional drills, so that’s been continuing. We’re looking to start construction late this spring. Right now as you know it’s been a pretty chilly winter and there’s a lot of frost in the ground so that’s going to put our construction off a little bit.  Phase 1 was looked at as a standalone basis and we received our Certificate of Public Good as a standalone basis for Phase 1. Our recent cost analysis shows that this project offers significant economic and environmental benefits for Vermont.”

But a number of Vermont residents disagree and they too were at the Public Service Board offices. Bristol resident Patricia Heather-Lea could not get inside the meeting room, so she remained in the hallway with dozens of others who are concerned about the pipeline. She says she will continue to protest until regulators decide the pipeline is unwise.  “People up in Monkton, if this pipeline goes through, they’re going to have a high pressure pipeline passing through their land which is potentially dangerous. It also affects their home, potentially could affect their water. It’s all these potentials. Do they have to happen? No. Could they? Yes. I’m also a Quaker. So there’s a belief in being a Quaker to speak truth to power and you want to bear witness to what other people are going through.”

Rising Tide Vermont volunteer and Vermont Gas ratepayer Avery Pittman is opposed to the pipeline.  “There’s many different layers of issues for us starting with how the fracked gas is even extracted. Then the environmental impacts of the fracking and how it impacts the people who live on that land. Then there’s the question of emissions and the fact that our climate is destabilizing rapidly. The other piece of it for us is that in Vermont where we’re going to be hosting the pipeline there’s all these questions around how do communities get to have a real voice in their energy future and their infrastructure? There’s just many different layers of problems that Rising Tide sees with the project.”

Pittman notes that Phase 2 of the project was canceled last month after International Paper pulled out—that caused Phase 3 to Rutland to be eliminated.  “We’ve been demanding since they got the Certificate of Public Good originally that they reevaluate it based on changing costs. They’ve had to re-estimate the project costs two times now because they’ve gone up since they originally proposed the project. This was a status conference but I think for us it was a bigger signifier that things are changing enough and these projects are so unpredictable that we’re going to continue putting the pressure on to get the Public Service Board to say that this project is not in the public good of Vermont. I think that for us the fact that the Public Service Board put the technical hearing so far down the road in mid-June places more of a question mark on whether or not Vermont Gas will be able to move forward  with this project.”

Five of the planned 43 miles of the Phase 1 pipeline has been completed.

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