Vergennes council asked to reconsider pipeline support

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday heard for the first time a resident question whether the city should support the proposed Vermont Gas Systems pipeline through Addison County.
Resident Jeff Margolis asked aldermen to rescind their support of the proposed natural gas pipeline, which came in the form of a 2011 letter backing Vermont Gas’s application to the Public Service Board seeking to use a reserve fund to pay for the pipeline extension from Chittenden County.
The natural gas pipeline, according to Vermont Gas representatives, could provide city residents as well as others in the county with a cheaper home heating alternative, and could save county businesses on energy costs.
Opponents, like Margolis on Tuesday, point to the environmental damage that fracking for natural gas causes, the effect on homeowners whose property the pipeline would bisect, and the long-range impact of relying on another fossil fuel rather than focusing on renewable alternative energy sources.
Margolis said he hoped the city council would reconsider whether the gas pipeline “was the best thing for the city,” and instead “continue its search for alternative energy solutions.” He also urged aldermen to seek a citywide vote to determine if residents supported the project.
Margolis stated that:
•  The city is making a “rushed decision” in favor of what historically is a “short-term fix” of cheaper gas, one that will “squeeze out greener alternatives.”
•  “There is no guarantee” that natural gas will retain its current price advantage over other fossil fuels in the future as demand for the product rises to meet supply.
•  “It’s hypocritical” for the state to allow a pipeline that will move fracked gas when Vermont bans the procedure.
•  “It’s not neighborly” to support a pipeline that uses fracked gas when neighbors in surrounding towns will be affected by the pipeline and those living near fracking have had their groundwater polluted.
•  The full environmental impact of fracking on groundwater and global warming has yet to be determined.
•  “It’s kicking the can down the road,” which Margolis called the biggest problem. “You’re committing people who will be here in 100 years” to a project that will “supplant greener solutions,” he said. “The money clouds our judgment … When the Vergennes City Council (decides) to rescind their endorsement, I can assure you other towns will follow.”
Mayor Bill Benton said aldermen haven’t seen “much of a backlash,” since issuing the letter of support, but he hoped those with feelings pro or con would speak to aldermen in the weeks to come.
“It would be nice to get a sense of what the community wants,” he said.
Benton did not rule out a referendum.
“I think that’s something we might discuss with our neighbors and friends,” he said.
Margolis hoped that was the case.
“A referendum would be a good place to start,” he said.
In other business at the Sept. 17 meeting, aldermen:
•  Were told by City Manager Mel Hawley that subcontractor bids for the city’s new police station had come in under the $1.55 million budget, but only by about $75,000. “This is an extremely tight budget,” Hawley said, adding, “Hopefully, we won’t have to come to the board with any action.” That latter remark drew this response from Benton: “Holding your hat out, you mean?”
•  Heard from Hawley that relocation of utility poles is holding up installation of solar arrays at and near the city’s sewer treatment plant. “I hope you see some activity there before your next meeting,” Hawley said.
•  Heard from Benton that he would like to see a live webcam feed from city docks to allow boaters and city officials to know if there was room to dock there. City Clerk Joan Devine said she receives many calls during the summer from boaters wondering if there is room, and a web feed would be helpful.
• Were reminded by Hawley of the Sept. 19 public informational meeting on a proposed toddler playground to be held at 7 p.m. at Vergennes Union Elementary School. The city recreation committee will offer a look at a design for a playground that officials hope to site in the vacant space between the city pool and East Street. The committee hopes to create a final playground design and raise funds this winter, and then to break ground in the spring.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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