Opinion: Gas pipeline does not meet eminent domain criteria

Recently, people have been made aware of the situation numerous homeowners along the proposed Addison “Natural” Gas Project pipeline are finding themselves in. Vermont Gas, the owner and petitioner for this project, has received the long awaited “Certificate of Public Good” from the Public Service Board for Phase 1 of the project.
The terms eminent domain, condemnation, and easement have become common words around the dinner tables in those areas affected by the pipeline. These are words we may have come across before during legal transfers of properties. I think I remember seeing something about eminent domain in a title insurance policy I once glanced over long ago … but at that time, I filed that term away in my mind, along with numerous other legal terms I had no knowledge of and thought I would never have need of knowing the definition of.
So, now we have come to this. The state government is backing a privately owned utility known to most as “Vermont Gas” in the process of condemnation of our land so Vermont Gas can build a pipeline through it. Although this company sells gas to some Vermonters, they are a privately owned corporation by parent company, Canadian Gaz Métro.
Last week, on “Vermont This Week,” a public television program, our governor answered questions about pertinent issues facing our state at this time. The governor spoke profusely about several important topics such as health care and the loss of jobs at IBM. The host, Stuart Ledbetter, stated they had received “dozens” of questions for the governor from Vermonters about the Addison “Natural” Gas Project.
Walt from Bristol was the only caller allowed to ask Gov. Shumlin to explain how this pipeline fits into the environmental future of Vermont. The governor’s answer was uncharacteristically short. He repeated what he has been saying for over a year now. He boasted that Vermont has three times more solar panels now than it did when he took office. He said something about “natural” gas being a good transition fuel. In sum, he said it was important to build out more fossil fuel infrastructure while we are trying to wean ourselves from using fossil fuels.
When Stuart Ledbetter brought up the fact that landowners are facing eminent domain, the governor made an analogy I take issue with. He said the process of eminent domain is necessary for this pipeline, just as it was for the building of the interstate and other public infrastructure.
If you are going to compare the taking of our land for this pipeline with the taking of land for a highway (or airport, railway or other publicly owned infrastructure), you would need to change the circumstances of the highway to match the pipeline’s.
First of all, the highway would have to be privately owned (but publicly funded). The private owner would be able to cherry pick only the customers that would be the most cost effective for them to serve, including a couple of large corporations that desire to use it to save a bunch of money, plus a few thousand Vermonters. If you were not one of those few thousand users or one of those corporations (and most of you who were being asked to give up land for it would not be on that list), you would not be able to use the highway.
Second, the situation would be that after 2050 we would no longer be using the highway because cars and trucks would be removed from our culture, let’s say because they have been the cause of the destruction of our atmosphere … or something like that. Your land would be taken from you for perpetuity (another term we are hearing more often lately) but it would only be needed for 36 years.
And, lastly, the highway would be volatile and could leak toxic substances or blow up once in a while.
I doubt very much that such a highway would be considered in the “public good” if it came with these circumstances.
The land needed for this pipeline project, between Phases 1 and 2, is approximately 700 acres — a piece of property about the size of the city of Vergennes. Figure in the safety setbacks that are not yet required, but should be, and the land grab is even larger. That’s a lot of real estate, folks.
Vermont Gas so far has spent well over half a million dollars on advertising for this pipeline. And, yet, the opposition is growing. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Now that it comes to the actual taking of land by force, our governor and this Canadian company should not be surprised to find that Vermonters will not eagerly give up their land or watch while their neighbors are forced to give up their land for something they know will not be in the best interest of their fellow Vermonters.
Jane Palmer

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