Vermonters worried about losing property to pipeline
By BETH GARBITELLI
The Associated Press | March 08,2014
MONTPELIER — Monkton homeowner Maren Vasatka was among several Vermonters who received notice from Vermont Gas recently about the potential of using her property for a natural gas line. And she’s not happy about it.
Vasatka said that before receiving the letter, she had been negotiating with the company about an easement option but still had lingering questions.
“We shouldn’t be forced to sign that agreement out of arm-twisting without having our issues addressed,” Vasatka said Friday.
Vermont homeowners and community members met with Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia and other state officials Thursday in Monkton to express concerns about the gas company’s plans.
The meeting comes on the heels of opposition from Town Meeting Day voters in Cornwall, Shoreham and Monkton to the Vermont Gas plan. The three towns passed non-binding resolutions to fight expansion of the pipeline.
Vasatka said she doesn’t think the pipeline is necessary and its construction brings safety risks to the region.
Vermont Gas has already won permission from the Public Service Board to extend its line through Monkton and other towns to Middlebury. The next phase of construction would pipe natural gas from Middlebury to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., passing through the rest of Addison County, including Cornwall and Shoreham, and also underneath Lake Champlain.
The entire project is expected to cost about $140 million.
Vasatka said what bothered her most was her experience with the company.
“It’s been the way we and other homeowners have been treated that’s by far the most disturbing,” Vasatka said.
Vermont Gas spokesman Stephen Wark said the letters indicated the possibility of eminent domain, or taking private property or the right to use it for public benefit, but they were not the start of any formal process.
“We hope it doesn’t go that way,” Wark said. “We haven’t done eminent domain in the 50 years that we’ve been in business.”
On safety issues, Wark said, the company’s blasting plan and other protocols have been reviewed and approved by the state Public Service Board and the Public Service Department.
“We remain committed to the landowners and working with them, but there are limits to what we can do,” he said.
Recchia said Vermont Gas would reach out to those who received the letters and re-start negotiations. He asked landowners to be responsive to the utility’s efforts and he offered support if they have serious concerns.
Recchia said eminent domain might be inevitable in some cases and his department would look into some of the residents’ concerns over easement agreements and how easement options were being structured.