MONKTON — After weeks of heated dispute between Vermont Gas Systems and Monkton town officials over the path of a proposed natural gas pipeline, the parties involved may be nearing a compromise — though not all residents are satisfied.
Local opposition to the South Burlington company’s $72 million pipeline began in early December, when it became known that VGS had changed the route the pipeline would take from Chittenden County to customers in Vergennes and Middlebury and to International Paper Co. in Ticonderoga, N.Y. Its original proposal had the pipeline running down the VELCO electric power line corridor, but the route submitted to regulators at the Public Service Board (PSB) had it going down the public right-of-way on Pond Street and Monkton Road.
After a Dec. 10 public hearing in which Monkton residents expressed their outrage, the selectboard released a statement opposing the pipeline pathway, and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission signaled its support for Monkton in letters to the PSB. Despite that, VGS filed for a Certificate of Public Good on Dec. 20 without amending the proposed route.
In a Jan. 10 public meeting, in which Monkton residents blasted the company’s senior officials with grievances, VGS promised to look into route changes and apologized for what the company called “poor communication.”
Now, VGS is offering to move the pipeline back onto the VELCO utilities corridor, according to Monkton selectboard chair John Phillips. The VELCO corridor abuts fewer properties, is set back from wells and homes, and has buffers in case of accidents or pipeline ruptures.
“As a whole, I’d say more residents will be happy,” said Phillips in a Thursday interview. “Our main concern as a board is that in general, whatever proposal they get across is safe.”
VGS spokesman Steve Wark confirmed on Friday that VGS was committed to refining its proposal to bring the pipeline back to within, or immediately adjacent to, the VELCO corridor. He said that public meetings in Monkton and Hinesburg in the past weeks had made it clear that VGS’s initial proposal of having the pipeline run along Baldwin Road in Hinesburg and Pond and Monkton roads in Monkton was not viable.
“We are really appreciative of these communities’ willingness to discuss the issues and work toward solutions,” Wark said.
In a Jan. 14 letter to the Vermont Public Service Board, the Monkton selectboard requested that the PBS reject the Certificate of Public Good for the project on the grounds that it did not contain sufficient safety and public heath data, or testimonies from engineers certified in the state of Vermont.
“Although extensive analysis of route choices were made very early on in the project, with the addition of International Paper as a customer, the project changed and evolved after the route selection in such significant ways that the original data used to analyze the routes became incomplete and obsolete,” the selectboard wrote. “Furthermore, a significant last minute change to the route in October 2012 occurred in Monkton when the route was moved from the VELCO power corridor to the public right-of-way, and no analysis was done on this route whatsoever.”
The Public Service Board’s pre-hearing conference is set for this Wednesday, Jan. 30, and the PSB will set the schedule for the pipeline project as it moves forward. At a special selectboard meeting on Jan. 23, the Monkton selectboard voted to enlist legal representation and ensure that the town is heard as the process moves forward.
Whether Monkton residents are pacified by moving the pipeline back to the VELCO corridor remains to be seen, however.
“While we are glad that the completely unworkable plan of using the public roads as an industrial utility corridor has been discarded, there are still plenty of people in town who are very unhappy that the pipeline is proposed to be here at all, since there is no interest on VGS’s part to offer service to the town,” resident Jennifer Baker told the Independent. “Vermont Gas still has a lot of fence-mending to do, and needs to listen to the concerns of landowners. Many people both on and off the route would still like to see it out of Monkton entirely, since there is no benefit to the town.”