Middlebury town energy chair to protest gas pipeline

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Energy Committee Chairman Jason Kaye last week served notice to the Middlebury selectboard that he will participate in peaceful efforts to disrupt construction of the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline into town, and asked board members if such activity might preclude him from serving on the panel.

At their June 14 meeting, selectboard members replied they will continue to endorse Kaye’s stewardship of the committee, provided his pipeline protests stay nonviolent and within the spirit of civil disobedience.

Kaye has been an energy committee member for the past four years. At the same time, he has been a vocal opponent of the natural gas pipeline that Vermont Gas is in the process of building from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. Opponents have raised safety and environmental concerns about the pipeline, and contend the project represents a major setback in Vermont’s transition to renewable energy.

Supporters have touted the pipeline as a tool for reducing energy bills for residential and business customers, many of which now rely on more expensive fuel oil.

Members of the group Rising Tide Vermont have organized recent pipeline protests in the Monkton area, including having activists sit in trees along the pipeline route to block construction. This past Tuesday, Vermont State Police cited Samuel Jessup, 31, of Montpelier for unlawful trespass and resisting arrest after occupying a tree off Old Stage Road in Monkton since June 8.

Kaye intimated on Tuesday that he would be engaging in similar activities after having participated during the pipeline’s permitting process.

“I’ve taken every opportunity afforded to me to stop this project in the regulatory processes in the state of Vermont,” he said. “I have spent many nights sifting through Vermont Gas’s filings, scrutinizing their financial analyses, crafting and implementing legal strategies with others. I have attended regulatory hearings, I have submitted comments, I have entered into the record sworn affidavits, and I have helped organize many others to do the same.”

He said he was among a group of people invited to meet with Gov. Peter Shumlin two years ago on the subject of the pipeline. Shumlin stated emphatically that he would continue to support the Addison Natural Gas Project, according to Kaye.

Kaye said he’s not going to stop his opposition to the pipeline, even after having exhausted all of the legal avenues to halt it.

“I am compelled by my conscience to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to sway Vermont Gas from building its project,” Kaye said. “My conscience compels me as well to be fully accountable for my actions.”

That includes answering to the selectboard, which has appointed him to the Energy Committee for the past four years.

“I understand my participation in nonviolent civil disobedience may render members of the energy committee, or members of this selectboard, or residents of Middlebury, no longer supportive of my continued involvement with a town committee.”

Asked what specifics pipeline-protest actions he might take, Kaye responded, “In this particular project, it means putting my body in the way of construction.”

Selectwoman Susan Shashok thanked Kaye for giving the board an early heads-up.

She and some of her colleagues shared their views on his plans.

“We are not going to judge you at this point,” said Selectman Nick Artim. 

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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