Gas pipeline plan draws backers and foes
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | March 23,2013
HINESBURG — The proposed natural gas pipeline through Addison County does not sit well with many residents, especially those directly affected by its placement.
But people and businesses farther south are eager to get the Vermont Gas pipeline approved by state regulatory officials.
Business and local leaders from the greater Middlebury area, Rutland and as far away as Ticonderoga, N.Y., issued various statements of support for the project that intends to bring natural gas through the western corridor. At a three-hour hearing Thursday night at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, more than 50 people voiced their concerns and support.
“We believe the western corridor is at a disadvantage (economically),” Thomas Donahue, executive vice president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, told state regulators.
“We are trying to attract business (to the area),” he said. “... It’s an important investment for the residents in the western part of Vermont.”
Echoing Donahue’s remarks were Ben Wellington and Robert Foster, both with Argi-Mark in Middlebury. They said natural gas in Addison County will offer substantial benefits to businesses and farmers whose energy costs are high and getting higher.
“The advantages outweigh the disadvantages,” Foster said of natural gas.
Opposing them were people like Monkton resident Ira Hughes, who said the project has been a disaster for residents in his small town. He said Vermont Gas should start a legal fund for residents.
“Monkton was blindsided by Vermont Gas with the new route,” he said. “This is a safety and ecological disaster in the making. ... There is no and will not be any public good.”
Hughes was joined in his opposition by Rising Tide Vermont, a coalition of environmentalists vehemently opposed to the construction of the pipeline.
The group, which held a demonstration outside the auditorium before the hearing, argues that it is hypocritical of Vermonters to ban fracking, a natural gas drilling technique that involves blasting chemical-laced water deep into the ground, but accept natural gas that is fracked elsewhere.
“Natural gas is not clean energy,” said Sarah Mehalick of Rising Tide Vermont. “We can’t say we don’t want it here, but are OK imposing the pollution and destruction on other places.”
Vermont Gas has proposed laying a gas pipeline through several towns in Chittenden and Addison counties. The $72 million project would connect the pipeline that enters the state in Highgate and extend it south through 11 towns to Middlebury and eventually Rutland.
The pipeline will also enable the company to provide gas to International Paper Co. in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
The Burlington gas company filed for a certificate of public good with the Public Service Board.
The PSB will hold a second public hearing Sept. 11 in Middlebury. In the meantime, people can send the board comments and concerns at www.psb.vermont.gov (click on the “File A Public Comment” link).