MONTPELIER — At a pre-hearing conference last Wednesday, the Vermont Public Service Board pushed back on Vermont Gas Systems’ preferred schedule for its proposed natural gas pipeline.
The PSB told VGS that its schedule for the pipeline, which would bring Canadian natural gas through Addison County to customers in Vergennes and Middlebury and also to International Paper in Ticonderoga, N.Y., was too aggressive.
The pipeline’s route from Chittenden County through Monkton has been the subject of heated dispute in recent weeks.
Eleven Monkton residents and the town’s recently enlisted lawyer, Joshua Diamond of the Montpelier firm Diamond & Robinson, attended the conference.
Local opposition to the pipeline began in Monkton in early December, when it became known that VGS had changed the route the pipeline would take through Monkton and Hinesburg. 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 in Monkton, and Baldwin Road in Hinesburg. After weeks of public outcry, VGS on Jan. 25 released a statement promising to move the pipeline back to the VELCO corridor.
At last Wednesday’s pre-conference hearing in Montpelier, VGS proposed to move forward with its pipeline project according to schedule, despite its intention to file an official change of route with the PSB by Feb. 28. Among other things VGS planned to hold a hearing on Feb. 25, schedule a site visit for the week of Feb. 25 and set the deadline to file for party status by Feb. 28.
The board rejected that schedule and asked VGS to come up with a new schedule by Feb. 8. The PSB set the date of the hearing for March 21 and the deadline for party status to March 29.
The board also informed VGS that it would not conduct a site visit until “after mud season,” according to Jennifer Baker, one of the 11 Monkton residents who attended the gathering.
As far as controversial energy projects go, VGS’ pipeline wasn’t even first on the PSB’s agenda.
“(The PSB) informed Vermont Gas that their docket is in line behind the Vermont Yankee (nuclear power plant) relicensing hearings currently under way, which are keeping them quite busy,” Baker said.
Though not all residents are satisfied with VGS’ amended route, Monkton town officials seemed pleased with the conference’s outcome.
“What we wanted was to push the schedule back,” said selectboard chair John Phillips. “That occurred. It will make it a lot more manageable, because it gives us a chance to look at things and consider when or how we would want to intervene as a town.”