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Vote set on city backing for natural gas pipeline in Vergennes

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen met on Tuesday night and formally accepted a petition from resident Jeff Margolis that calls for a citywide vote on whether Vergennes residents back or oppose the proposed Vermont Gas Systems pipeline that would run through Vergennes and other Addison County communities.
After accepting the petition on Tuesday, aldermen set a Dec. 10 vote on whether residents agree with their support of the pipeline.
That support was expressed in a letter aldermen wrote backing Vermont Gas’s earlier application to the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) seeking to use a reserve fund to pay for its pipeline extension from Chittenden County to Middlebury and Vergennes. The PSB will ultimately rule on whether the extension will move forward.
Margolis first expressed his opposition to the pipeline in September, and then worked with city officials both on the wording of his petition and on the timing of its submission.
Margolis agreed to delay handing the petition in until Tuesday in order to allow aldermen to warn balloting for Dec. 10, the same day residents will also vote on a $2.88 million Vergennes Union High School bond proposal. (See related story.)
The wording Margolis and officials agreed to put before voters is:
“Shall the voters support the City Council to encourage the Vermont Public Service Board to allow Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. to expand its transmission and distribution systems to serve the residents and businesses of Vergennes?”
Margolis said in an email that ballot language will make the choice clear on Dec. 10.
“The wording of the petition is taken from the language of the letter the city council wrote. In short, if you support the pipeline, vote yes. If you do not, vote no,” he said.
Margolis said he appreciated the cooperation he received during the petition process, even though it came from those whose decision he was questioning.
“City officials have been nothing but supportive and proactive in helping me bring this to a vote,” he said.
In passing the petition, Margolis gathered about 100 signatures, more than the 78 he needed to trigger a vote. He said it was not difficult to do so.
“Nearly everyone I asked gave me their signature,” he said.
Margolis said he opposed the council’s support for environmental reasons and because he believed residents should have had a say on the pipeline issue before aldermen wrote the letter. He said he received a lot of feedback while seeking petition signatures.
“Nearly everyone had strong opinions about the situation,” he said. “I initiated this process because I felt the citizens of Vergennes should have been consulted on a decision with such great weight. I hope this process raises awareness about the trade-offs involved in purchasing fracked gas. I hope the results of the vote show the city council that the citizens of Vergennes do not broadly support this endeavor.”
Margolis first came before the council on Sept. 17 and told aldermen he 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. Others who had spoken earlier before the council expressed an interest in having their homes served by what is now a less expensive fuel.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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