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Monkton to host third meeting on Vermont Gas pipeline

MONKTON — On Thursday Sen. Chris Bray will host a third meeting between Monkton residents and the Department of Public Service to address issues related to the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project, a pipeline that will run through the town.
While previous meetings have focused on the negotiating tactics used by Vermont Gas Systems to secure land use agreements from three dozen affected landowners in the town, this round of talks will center on possible soil contamination from a disinfectant spray used on Vermont Electric Company power poles.
The meeting will be held Aug. 7 at the Monkton Firehouse at 7 p.m. Representatives from VELCO and the Department of Public Service will be on hand to answer questions. DPS Commissioner Chris Recchia attended the previous two meetings with Monkton residents.
Much of the pipeline will run near the power poles in the VELCO corridor, and residents are concerned that by displacing soil to build the pipeline, Vermont Gas will inadvertently introduce contaminants into waterways.
The substance in question is pentachlorophenol (PCP), a chemical used as an herbicide, fungicide, insecticide and disinfectant. It is often used on utility poles and railroad ties to slow the wood from rotting. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies PCP as a likely human carcinogen, or cause of cancer.
This spring, tests confirmed unhealthy levels of PCP in a Monkton landowner’s well. VELCO agreed to replace the well, but other residents have said they are concerned construction of the pipeline will introduce PCP into their water sources.
The Public Service Board on July 25 ordered Vermont Gas to temporarily halt work on “all soil disturbing activity associated with the construction of the project in the VELCO right of way” until the company drafts a soil management plan.
The Agency of Natural Resources on July 8 urged Vermont Gas to create such a plan, and the company agreed. According to the July 25 Public Service Board order, the company will submit a soil management plan by Aug. 1. It wasn’t available as of press time on Friday.
The order prohibits Vermont Gas from digging in the VELCO right of way until the Public Service Board approves its soil management plan, in order to mitigate the potential for “environmental or health impacts from ongoing construction activities authorized by the Certificate of Public Good.”
The board first approved the project in December, on the condition that it would not adversely affect the environment or health of residents.
Monkton selectboard Chair Stephen Pilcher said the board supports regulators in ordering Vermont Gas to develop a soil management plan.
 “We had asked for it a while back, when the issue first came up,” Pilcher said.
Pilcher said he hopes the new plan includes a provision for third party engineers to periodically test the soil.
“We’d like some third party that doesn’t have a financial conflict of interest,” Pilcher said. “The Department of Public Service would be perfect to have do that, since they are going to have pipeline engineers and are charged with protecting the public good.”
In the best-case scenario, Pilcher said that he hopes soil is declared safe before Vermont Gas begins digging the pipeline trench near VELCO poles that have been treated with PCP.
 “We’d love to detect that stuff prior to construction,” Pilcher said.
Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark did not by press time respond to a request for comment on how the Public Service Board order to halt work in the VELCO corridor would delay the project, if at all, or incur additional costs.
Monkton has been a hotbed of opposition to Phase I of the Vermont Gas pipeline. Residents voted nearly unanimously on Town Meeting Day to denounce the project. Of the 36 residents in Monkton whose land is bisected by the pipeline, Vermont Gas has only signed land use agreements with 15.
According to town land records, Vermont Gas has not signed an easement with a Monkton resident since June 9. Construction on the pipeline began last month, though Vermont Gas still needs to reach agreements with more than half of the 221 landowners along the 49-mile route, from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. 

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