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City to petition pipeline endorsement

VERGENNES — Vergennes officials said at the city council meeting last week that they and a petitioner against aldermen’s endorsement of the proposed Addison County extension of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline had mutually agreed to postpone his formal presentation of that petition.
Jeff Margolis had been on the Oct. 22 agenda, but instead, aldermen will hold what they expect to be a brief special meeting in city hall at 6 p.m. this Tuesday to accept a petition.
That delay will allow city officials to make sure they can hold a vote on the petition at the same time as an expected Vergennes Union High School bond vote, they said.
Aldermen confirmed at their Oct. 22 meeting Jeff Margolis had about 100 valid signatures on his petition, enough to trigger a citywide vote.
The petition reads, in City Manager Mel Hawley’s paraphrase, “Shall voters approve the city council’s … support to the Public Service Board of Vermont Gas’s proposed extension.”
Hawley said he and Margolis agreed on neutral petition language that would be easily understood by voters.
“It’s clear,” Hawley said. “Yes means gas to Vergennes, and no means no gas.”
The VUHS board is set to meet at 6 p.m. this Monday night, Oct. 28, to consider a bond to pay for building and site upgrades, primarily to the school’s auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria.
The VUHS board is contemplating a Dec. 3 vote date for a plan tentatively pegged at $2.2 million. But if the board chose a later date and the aldermen had accepted the petition this past Tuesday, Hawley said the timetable the petition triggered might have made it impossible to hold both votes at the same time.
“Once the city council receives one (a petition), it drives a very specific schedule,” Hawley said, adding, “It is not absolutely certain today when the high school vote is going to occur. Jeff agrees, and the city council agrees, if we’re going to have a vote, let’s have it on the same day.”
Accepting the petition this week will give aldermen the necessary flexibility, Hawley said.
Margolis first came before the council on Sept. 17 and told aldermen he opposes the natural gas pipeline extension on environmental grounds and favors alternative, renewable energy sources that he said could be shunted aside if the pipeline goes forward. 
The pipeline extension, according to Vermont Gas, 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.
Council support for the pipeline came in the form of a letter backing Vermont Gas’s application to the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) seeking to use a reserve fund to pay for its pipeline extension from Chittenden County. It is part of what Vermont Gas is calling Phase I of the Addison Natural Gas Project, which would extend its gas pipeline from Williston to Middlebury and Vergennes.
The PSB will ultimately rule on whether the extension will move forward.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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