Opinion: ‘Devil’ invited to ACRPC board meeting last week

Last weekend I submitted a letter to the editor of this paper, with my opinion on how the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) should vote this week on Vermont Gas Systems’ (VGS) Phase II pipeline proposal. My letter arrived too late for Monday’s paper, and my recommendations would have been moot, so I agreed with the editor that I should withdraw that letter and, instead, comment on the ACRPC vote after the fact.
In that first letter, I pointed out that the task of the ACRPC with respect to the VGS proposal is not to rule on how or whether the pipeline would serve the public good: that is the job of the Public Service Board. The role of the commission is simply to determine whether the Phase II pipeline proposal is in compliance with the regional plan.
I went on to remind readers that in the past month, the Act 250 Committee and the Energy Committee of the ACRPC had in-depth discussions regarding their respective areas of concern, and each had determined that they would recommend that the full commission vote against approval of the Phase II proposal. After the committees explained their conclusions, I predicted, the ACRPC would vote “no” on the pipeline, because it clearly conflicts with several significant stipulations in the regional plan.
I could have ended the letter there, but instead I went on to say that the devil’s advocate in me felt the need to point out that the ACRPC could vote to endorse the VGS Phase II proposal in spite of the conflict with aspects of its own regional plan. But, I wrote, such a decision would make a loud and confusing statement that the regional plan has no effective meaning, and leave all the commissioners and the general public wondering why they even bothered to write it the first place. Based on the thoughtful and insightful work that the planning commission has done in the past, I saw no reason to expect that the commissioners were going to invite the devil to their meeting on Wednesday.
Well, live and learn. It turns out that my metaphorical devil didn’t have to be invited, because he was the one who put the meeting on the calendar and unlocked the building. In response to a question from a commissioner about legal precedent, Adam Lougee, the executive director of ACRPC, speechified way beyond his role as facilitator, building up to his declaration that “this is an economic development project — there is a lot of money at stake.” His decision to play the it’s-the-economy-stupid card certainly seemed to me, and, far more importantly, to the voting delegates in the room, to imply that money trumps any regional plan paragraphs that might seem like stumbling blocks.
So now the commissioners who worked so hard on the ambitious and forward-looking regional plan have a credibility problem and a dilemma. They can accept that money is all that really matters, and take steps to merge with the Chamber of Commerce. Or they could change their name to the Addison, Rutland and Upstate New York Short-Term Planning Commission and continue to rubber-stamp money-making ideas regardless of where they take us down the road. Or … I don’t know … I am obviously not very good at predicting what the ACRPC is going to do next.
Bobbie Carnwath

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