ADDISON COUNTY — Vermont Gas Systems announced Tuesday that it has secured all the permits it needs for Phase I of the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project, but the company has little more than half of the land easements it needs to complete the project.
The South Burlington company had been waiting on permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and had already secured all necessary state permits.
“The final permit from the Army Corps of Engineers makes it possible for Vermont Gas to begin work to bring the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas to Vermont homeowners and businesses,” Vermont Gas Vice President Eileen Simollardes said in a statement.
The company said it has begun to move staff and equipment into staging areas in New Haven and Williston, and will hold a groundbreaking ceremony in the near future.
But while the company is ready to begin construction, it does not have all the land use agreements necessary to complete the pipeline.
According to numbers provided by the company, Vermont Gas has obtained 124 parcels, representing 63 percent of the length of the 49-mile pipeline which will stretch from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. Since some landowners own more than parcel along the route, the 124 parcels represent 78 of 221, or 35 percent, of the landowners along the route.
Vermont Gas has negotiated agreements with landowners in each of the eight towns through which the pipeline will run. That breaks down as follows: 9 in Colchester, 15 in Essex, 35 in Williston, 2 in St. George, 12 in Hinesburg, 18 in Monkton, 31 in New Haven and 2 in Middlebury.
Securing the remaining easements may not be an easy task. In Monkton, Vermont Gas has only secured one third of the land use agreements it needs. At a meeting last week with state legislators and the head of the Department of Public Service, more than a dozen Monkton landowners said negotiations with the company were at a standstill.
The landowners said Vermont Gas has been unresponsive to their questions about the project and is offering inadequate compensation for their land.
Earlier this week, the Public Service Board denied a request from Vermont Gas to allow the company to begin construction without the Army Corps of Engineers permits.
The company wanted to begin moving equipment to staging areas in New Haven and Williston that are not subject to those permits. The Public Service Board’s refusal to grant the waiver turned out to be of little consequence to Vermont Gas, since the Army Corps of Engineers permits came through a day after the ruling.
The Certificate of Public Good issued by the Public Service Board last December states that the company must secure all necessary state and federal permits before beginning work on the project.
In its ruling, the Board said it inserted that requirement into the Certificate of Public Good “with an awareness of the likelihood of sequential and time-consuming permitting activity.”
The Board added that the Certificate of Public Good includes the permitting language so all potential impacts to water quality and wetlands are addressed before any construction begins.
Vermont Gas, in its request for a waiver June 10, said that the Army Corps of Engineers permits were delaying the project, as well as causing the company to incur additional costs.
The Board was unconvinced, ruling that the company “provided an insufficient reason” for a waiver to be issued.
In its request, Vermont Gas said that the Agency of Natural Resources, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers and Public Service Department had no objection to a waiver.
Several parties, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Monkton landowners affected by the pipeline, the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association and the town of New Haven filed comments with the Public Service Board objecting to the proposed waiver.
CORRECTION, 7/9/14: An earlier version of this story incorrectly equated the number of parcels Vermont Gas has obtained with the number of landowners the company has obtained land use agreements from. The number of landowners Vermont Gas has secured agreements from is 78, not 124, which represents 35, not 56 percent of the total landowners. The Independent regrets this error.