On this Town Meeting Day voters in one Addison County town have reiterated their strong opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline, hoping to boost their voice as the Vermont Gas Company seeks permission from the state to expand its service south.
As in other Vermont towns, a well-run grassroots campaign is widely seen as an art form in Monkton. So Jennifer Baker was welcomed when she circulated petitions asking whether anyone was interested in establishing a legal fund to represent the town’s interests in the Addison County Natural Gas Project.
"I think the town is pretty united that they don’t want to be pushed around by Vermont Gas and that they want to have a say in Vermont Gas’s future presence in the town," Baker said shortly before a voice vote during Monkton’s town meeting confirmed her assumption.
And with that, Monkton agreed to spend as much as $50,000 on a legal fund.
Last year, Vermont Gas applied for a state permit to build a 42-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and the International Paper Company in Ticonderoga, New York. The company hopes to eventually expand to Rutland.
But residents in Monkton and Hinesburg asked the company to alter the route of the pipeline away from town roads and away from private homes to make it safer. The company complied – twice – but some people still object.
"I hope the $50,000 is adequate," said Michael Bayer, who thinks Monkton needs legal representation before the Public Service Board, which will ultimately rule on the pipeline. Bayer wants Vermont Gas to distribute natural gas to Monkton and compensate those homeowners who might suffer damages during construction.
"We have to make them pay to get us something, because they’re going to make millions of dollars out of International Paper. And they’re going to make millions of dollars out of Middlebury and Rutland," Bayer said. "It’s not economically profitable to do distribution in our town, so it has to become economically necessary to do it."
Vermont Gas says it plans to distribute natural gas to Monkton residents by 2016 if the pipeline is approved, although some in town say spending town money to ensure distribution in a small rural community like Monkton is unrealistic.
Select Board Chairman John Phillips said Monkton should focus on working together with other towns that have raised safety concerns.
"I’m hoping that if there are some issues that are the same that the full burden of expenditures won’t fall on our shoulder on some issues," Phillips said. "It isn’t difficult to spend a lot of money."
Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said the company remains optimistic that it can address the community’s needs. "We’re confident that we can build the pipeline in a safe and appropriate manner just as we have in Chittenden and Franklin counties for almost 50 years," he said.
Vermont Gas estimates the switch to natural gas will save users in Addison County $200 million over 20 years, and it hopes to have a construction permit in hand by the end of this year.