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Editorial: Why a 'No' vote on pipeline easement hurts Middlebury

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Posted on November 3, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



Next Tuesday, Nov. 7, Middlebury residents will hold a special vote on a single article: Whether to approve the current easement arrangement, as proposed by the Middlebury selectboard, with Vermont Gas Systems across three small parking lots within the downtown. (See our most recent story by clicking here.)

We urge residents to vote “yes.”

Here’s why:

• The current agreement asks for no compensation for those easements, which extend behind the Town Hall and Ilsley Library, beside Mister Ups restaurant and adjacent to Mill Street. The petition asked Vermont Gas to pay a small one-time fee for those easements. Doing so would single out Vermont Gas Systems, despite precedent that the town does not charge other utilities or telecommunications companies for similar easements. There is no valid reason to single out Vermont Gas, other than the petitioners don’t like that choice of fuel or the company. In a government based on laws and precedent, it’s dangerous to allow the personal preference of a few to dictate town practice. (Hopefully a similar petition wouldn’t dictate actions against this newspaper — perhaps based on my political views — or against other town contractors for equally specious reasons. You get the point. It is an unseemly way to govern.)

• The move would hurt Middlebury’s downtown and increase the tax burden of Middlebury taxpayers. The town would lose property tax revenue on that infrastructure over 50 years ($2,500 in the first year), amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, and it limits construction potential in those crucial areas of the downtown. For a town that complains of high taxes and has eagerly sought ways to attract downtown development, that’s not smart.

• Arguments that Vermont Gas should pay taxes based on the volume of fuel passing through the pipeline versus the property value, or that natural gas has a heavier carbon imprint, etc., have nothing to do with this vote. It is a Trump-like distraction based on debasing the opponent, not addressing the issue at hand, which is granting these easements. Like it or not (and most petitioners likely do not), Vermont Gas is in town. Its infrastructure investment will net the town about $200,000 in property taxes the first year and a fair share of that amount for the next 50 years. Economically and environmentally, these three easements are inconsequential; the petition proposed a symbolic action simply to be spiteful.

• That hurts Middlebury because we are a town that wants to attract entrepreneurs. We want to embrace a tech environment; herald ourselves as a cradle of specialized foods and beverages; boast of a hospital with a birthing center second to none; champion our internationally recognized college; laud our schools, police, firefighters and first responders; praise our agricultural heritage and the future it offers; and hope against hope for new businesses to flock to our doorstep.

And yet we stick mud in the eye of a company that simply asks to be treated the same as any other utility with a similar request.

Vote “no” and you send a message to businesses everywhere that Middlebury is a fickle lot, not to be trusted.

Vote “yes” to support treating like businesses equally; to reduce Middlebury taxes; and to reject the unintended consequences of a misguided petition. The selectboard acted wisely with the initial agreement. Townspeople should care enough about the town’s image to show their support. Vote this Tuesday by Australian ballot at the new town offices.

Angelo Lynn

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