Middlebury selectboard lists priorities for pipeline

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has approved a “memorandum of agreement” with Vermont Gas Systems, a document that defines the town’s safety, security, traffic control, emergency training and management demands for the Phase I natural gas pipeline project if it is ultimately approved by the Vermont Public Service Board.
The selectboard voted, 5-1, on Oct. 8, with member Susan Shashok opposed and member Travis Forbes absent, to approve the memorandum of agreement.
The memorandum lays out the issues that Middlebury wants to see addressed if the PSB elects to award Vermont Gas the certificate of public good it needs to proceed with the controversial, 43-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes.
The board, prior to its vote, listened to impassioned pleas from several citizens urging that the pipeline be opposed. The project is designed to deliver a cheaper heating fuel source to businesses and homes in portions of Addison County as part of Vermont Gas’s goal of reaching Rutland by the year 2020.
But the pipeline plan has come under fire from many county residents concerned about their property rights, the volatility of the natural gas and its procurement through hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and the potential that the availability of natural gas could stall Vermont’s efforts to convert to cleaner renewable energy systems.
“A lot more people have testified against this project than for it,” resident Ross Conrad told the board.
Others spoke about the possible impact the pipeline might have on future generations, and said that approving such a project would be shortsighted.
The memorandum calls for Vermont Gas, among other things, to:
•  Surround the Middlebury gate station with a seven-foot perimeter fence with a locked gate.
•  Ensure that sensitive equipment be housed in a building that will likewise be locked.
•  Provide agreed-upon screening for the gate station.
•  Take measures to mitigate traffic impacts, including (if necessary) limiting hours of construction to keep traffic impacts temporary and localized.
•  Restore landscaping to the satisfaction of landowners to the extent feasible for the transmission mainline and distribution lines, and work with landowners on a case-by-case basis to seek alternate locations for trees removed during pipeline corridor construction.
•  Provide training to first responders and local firefighters about natural gas pipeline safety issues.
•  Deliver a public awareness campaign about the pipeline prior to it being put into use.
A majority of selectboard members said that while they sympathized with opponents’ perspectives, they believe the project could bring savings to local homeowners and provide an economic development tool for the region.
Selectman Nick Artim said he realized society will ultimately need to convert to renewables in a big way, but added, “It’s a long road to get there … In the meantime, it’s important for us to have an economically stable community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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