Monkton landowners appeal pipeline permit

MONKTON — A couple whose property the proposed Vermont Gas Systems natural gas pipeline would traverse has appealed the Public Service Board’s decision late last month to give the project a Certificate of Public Good.
Through a motion to amend the PSB’s Dec. 23 Certificate of Public Good, Jane and Nathan Palmer hope to move the proposed pipeline route further away from their home off Rotax Road in Monkton. The Palmers also request in their Jan. 6 filing that the PSB amend the certificate to cite only the Monkton Town Plan, and not a Memorandum of Understanding that was agreed upon by the Monkton selectboard and the utility in June 2013.
The Certificate of Public Good, or CPG, permits Vermont Gas to move forward with a 41-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. The $86 million project is “Phase One” of a Vermont Gas that in Phase Two could be extended from Middlebury through Cornwall and Shoreham, under Lake Champlain to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. Ultimately, Vermont Gas wants to extend its pipeline into Rutland County.
The Palmers, who are represented by Bristol attorney James Dumont, argue in their motion that the Public Service Board’s approval of the proposed distance between the Palmer residence and the pipeline — 160 feet — is inconsistent with a separate finding within the same document. That section states, “the area subject to catastrophic harm to both property and person, caused by the catastrophic breach of the transmission pipeline as designed by VGS, is 320 feet.”
“Everyone else is getting 300 feet; we want 300 feet,” Jane Palmer said Thursday.
The Palmers are requesting that the proposed pipeline route be moved at least 320 feet from their house, on the western side of their 77 acres. This would place the pipeline in a federally protected wetlands reserve, which would require Vermont Gas Systems to seek additional permits. In previous testimony, the appeal states, Vermont Gas argued that for that reason, the “use of those lands would be more difficult and expensive.”
The appeal notes that Vermont Gas plans to traverse other wetlands.
“The Board does not explain why it is necessary to locate the pipeline half the distance it found was needed to avoid catastrophic harm to property and to people when these other lands are available,” the Palmer’s motion said.
Jane Palmer said the route that is 160 feet from her home would require the felling of a group of trees and shrubs that serve as a buffer zone between organic and non-organic fields.
The appeal also asks the PSB to strike section 116 of the Certificate of Public Good, or CPG, which states that the Monkton Town Plan does not mention natural gas lines.
“The town plan chapter on ‘Utilities’ states that there are existing transmission and distribution lines but no existing natural gas lines in Monkton,” the appeal reads.
The Palmers also cited the section of the town plan that calls on the community to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
In addition, the couple in the filing requests that the PSB rely on the Monkton town plan rather than the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, as the selectboard “lacked legal authority to go beyond making recommendations.”
The Palmers also believe the memorandum violates the town plan.
“The Monkton MOU calls for the construction of distribution lines, contrary to the town plan,” the appeal states.
For that reason, the Palmers argue the PSB should not have based its findings on the MOU.
“With respect to Monkton, VGS has not met its burden of proof and the CPG should be denied,” the appeal states. 
The Palmers oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons. They say they will not sell their land to Vermont Gas Systems. Therefore, if Vermont Gas seeks to use their property, the company must acquire it through the process of eminent domain, by which private lands can be seized for the benefit of the public, provided that the landowner is compensated according to market value.
Jane Palmer said that to this point, Vermont Gas has not made the couple a formal offer to use their land for the pipeline. She said the company has made such offers to her neighbors, whose land the pipeline would also run through. 
Palmer added that the couple’s goals are to stop the project, and if that is not possible, see the pipeline rerouted along the Vermont Electric Company corridor, which is within several hundred yards of their property.
All parties involved have until Jan. 21 to respond to the CPG, at which time the board will consider them and decide on a course of action.
Editor’s note: Read the Palmers’ Motion to Amend at addisonindependent.com.

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