Amid Protests, Vermont Gas Files For Permit To Build Pipeline

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As the demand for natural gas continues to grow, companies that sell the fuel are hoping to expand.

South Burlington-based Vermont Gas Systems currently serves areas of Chittenden and Franklin counties. Now the utility wants to provide service to points south – and west.

On Thursday, amid protests outside its office, Vermont Gas filed a petition for a state permit to begin construction. But its proposed underground pipeline project has already collided with opposition from local residents who don’t like the route.

When Jennifer Baker got word from her neighbor that Vermont Gas had plans to put down pipe right in front of her nineteenth century farm house in Monkton, she says they began to do some research.

"And the more research we did the more alarmed we were at the prospect of having this high-pressure pipeline running right down a residential street," Baker said, walking across her front yard adjacent to Monkton Road.

This is where Vermont Gas hopes to build 42 miles of new 12-inch pipeline that would extend from Colchester to Addison County then hook a right – west – under Lake Champlain to a paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The cost: $91 million.

But town officials in Monkton and Hinesburg have formally come out against the project, at least as it is currently designed.

"We asked them to find an alternative route," said John Phillips, Chairman of the Monkton Select Board.

Phillips says that the Board doesn’t object to the economic benefits of a pipeline for Addison County, but that the town feels hoodwinked after it learned Vermont Gas was deviating from an existing utility line"right through a fairly heavily residential area," Phillips says.

The US Energy Information Administration says the number of natural gas customers in Vermont has more than doubled in the past 25 years, from 15,000 to more than 38,000. In May, Vermont became the first state in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing within its borders. But despite environmentalists’ concerns about "fracking," Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark says the company expects the fuel to play an important role in Vermont’s energy future.

"The future looks very strong for natural gas," Wark said. "This project is a great opportunity for Vermonters to reduce their heating costs – to reduce their emissions, and it’s going to help homeowners save significant money on heating. And it’s going to help businesses save millions and millions of dollars."

Wark says Vermont Gas carefully balanced economic and environmental concerns in each of the communities before deciding the pipeline’s path. Now, he says the company is open to further dialogue.

"I think that people are upset right now and I get that," he said. "You can’t build a project in Vermont without somebody having a concern about something."

The Ansel Adams calendar hanging in Wark’s office has a big smiley face drawn on December 20th, indicating his hopes for a favorable decision from the Public Service Board.

And if the project is approved, Vermont Gas hopes to bring natural gas service to customers in Middlebury and Vergennes by late 2014.

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