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Opinion: Drug case causes pipeline angst

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Posted on February 3, 2014 |
By Jennifer Baker et al



Editor’s note: The following is an open letter sent to the Vermont Public Service Board and Public Service Department.

We are residents of Addison and Chittenden County and landowners being compelled by your authority to allow Vermont Gas Systems to place hazardous materials infrastructure on our property, in our town and near our homes. We are extremely alarmed by the recent story broadcast on WCAX on Jan. 23 regarding the manufacture and use of methamphetamines by welders responsible for the construction of Vermont Gas Systems pipeline upgrades in Franklin County.

Workers on pipeline construction sites are subject to strict DOT-mandated drug and alcohol testing under 49 CFR Part 199. The fact that state police were investigating these men since November as they continued to work on pipeline construction suggests that the system that is supposed to be in place to detect and eliminate this egregious behavior is not functioning as it should be.

The mission statement on the website of the Public Service Department includes the statement that the department is responsible for “protecting the public health and safety and ensuring that safety regulations established by federal and state government for nuclear facilities, natural gas, and certain types of propane installations are met.”Clearly we have a situation here where this is not happening. Landowners should not be forced to have to permit individuals engaging in criminal activity on their property, near their homes and children. As the adjudicating body that has granted Vermont Gas Systems access to our town and our property in order to lay their pipeline, it is your responsibility to protect citizens and ensure that all federal safety regulations are complied with to the fullest degree.

We have previously been upset by, and have reported to you repeated instances where VGS subcontractors engaged in criminal trespassing in order to compile surveying data when they did not receive permission for access. There were never any consequences for the individuals who engaged in this behavior. However, the idea that a hazardous materials pipeline is being constructed by individuals who may be working while impaired by illegal drugs is an offense that is far, far more serious.

We are not at all reassured by VGS’ insistence that it will launch its own investigation, or that the pipeline inspection protocols will take care of any potential problems. A company cannot investigate itself, especially a company that already has a track record of not providing proper oversight over its own subcontractors.

We are requesting that you open a docket and launch an immediate investigation into the breach that has allowed such practices to occur. Only a fully transparent, public investigation by an independent party will provide Vermont residents with the reassurance that this pipeline is being constructed in the safest possible matter and to the highest standards.

Drug and alcohol testing protocols are meaningless when there is no means to monitor or procedures put in place for enforcement. We hope that you will carry out your responsibility and grant this deplorable situation the immediate attention that it deserves and open an investigation in order to regain the public’s confidence.

Claire Broughton, Louisa Selina Peyser, Gregory Peyser, Katherine George, Maren Vasatka, Renee McGuinness, Michael Hurlburt, John Morin, Ed Wageman, Carole Wageman, Richard Lesage, Nathan Palmer, Jane Palmer, Michael Bowen, Kathy Malzac, Nancy Menard, Gerard Menard, John Mejia, Stephen Pilcher, Colin Flood, Kira Kelley, Eric Bessette, Scott Clark, Jennifer Baker, Kristin Blanchette and Charles Frazier

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