Opinion: New proposal, old tactics

My wife and I left Vergennes in the summer of 2004 and when I saw the Jeff Margolis/VTDigger article on the Vergennes referendum regarding the Vermont Gas pipeline I felt I needed to speak out. The article brought back memories of another energy line involving Vergennes in 2003 and 2004. That line was the VELCO Northwest Reliability Project (NWRP).
It wasn’t the geographic similarity of the two projects, as much as the manipulative approach used by the Public Service Department (PSD) and VELCO/GMP in 2003 to deal with the affected communities that really caught my attention. It’s the same divide and conquer, give each town the worst-case situation, make them fight against each other and then give each town a take it or leave it option. The result was a lot of individuals and communities were seriously hurt while a few had some gains.
Here are a few key points to remember.
1.      Initially the VELCO project was designed to utilize the existing Green Mountain Power line that passed through Vergennes. This would have trisected Vergennes with 90-foot towers, crossed Route 22A at the bridge, passed through the basin and headed back directly over the old historic brick warehouses, all 90-foot towers. The substation that is up on 22A was to have been placed in the basin.
2.      Amazingly the PSD gave the VELCO/GMP Vergennes trisection plan their complete blessing. They agreed with VELCO and GMP’s findings that this oversized transmission line and substation would have had no, as in NO, economic, environmental or social impact on the city.
3.      Initially, the city council and the mayor seemed to be ambivalent about the project, I’ve never fathomed why.
4.      Because of the mayor and council’s lackluster concern over the project’s impact on the city the planning commission, in early October, held an open meeting inviting neighboring towns impacted by the NWRP to attend. That meeting was attended by some 150 people from Vergennes and the affected towns, it was quite contentious, but it had the effect of getting the towns to begin talking to one another, and talking about a joint strategy for dealing with the project.
5.      A few weeks after the meeting the PSD created a unique set of rules negating towns joining forces. The PSD decided that each town was to negotiate separately with VELCO; this was a simple divide, threaten and conquer strategy. All of that is on the record.
6.      The current state of affairs, while better for Vergennes than the one VELCO proposed and the PSD originally blessed, left many of the city’s neighbors in a no win, take it or leave it situation. I’m convinced that if it hadn’t been for the planning commission’s actions, the original VELCO proposal would be in place today.
7.      There is an additional piece of information that most Vergennes residents aren’t aware occurred the Saturday morning after the planning commission meeting. I was asked by the chair of the planning commission to attend (in his stead) an unwarned, “get to know one another” meeting about the VELCO project in the city manager’s office. This unwarned meeting was initiated by the PSD. In addition to the members of the city council and a city task force there was a member of the PSD and a representative of GMP. I didn’t get the name of the PSD person but the GMP representative was, I believe, Mary Powell. When the city manager saw me he demanded I leave. I refused, stating that it was a public meeting, and sat down. About 5 minutes later, the meeting broke up.
Did they meet again, we’ll never know. But it was clear that neither the PSD nor VELCO/GMP wanted the local communities to join forces. I’m sure that’s the case here.
As Jeff Margolis said, a NO vote would “give our neighbors in Monkton and Cornwall bargaining power with Gaz Métro (dba Vermont Gas)” and some needed breathing room. Either way I think it’s important that the elected officials and residents both be given the additional breathing room they need. And that the PSD, help them by being more of the “citizen’s advocate” that they clearly weren’t in 2003 and 2004.
Jed Guertin

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