Vt. Gas OK’d to build near VELCO poles
MONTPELIER — The Public Service Board on Aug. 26 lifted a stay on soil-disturbing activity in certain areas of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project, a 49-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes.
The board ordered the stay July 25 after state officials became concerned that Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) utility poles near the pipeline route contained a dangerous chemical that could have leaked into water sources.
The substance in question, pentachlorophenol or PCP, is used to treat and preserve the wood on utility poles. It is classified as a likely human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. This February, tests of a well in Monkton found unsafe levels of PCP in the water there.
The Department of Environmental Conservation issued VELCO a notice of alleged violation, and the utility agreed to replace the well and conduct tests.
While Vermont Gas is not involved in this potential PCP contamination, almost half of Phase I of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project runs along the VELCO corridor, near utility poles.
As a precaution, the Public Service Board ordered Vermont Gas to not build in certain areas where the pipeline trench would run close to utility poles, until VELCO could test those soils for unsafe levels of PCP. There are 153 PCP-treated poles within 50 feet of the project’s construction zone, according to documents related to the case.
The board also required Vermont Gas to develop a soil management plan, which the company filed with the board the same day the order was issued.
“We were concerned that Vermont Gas’ operations near VELCO-owned poles without a soil management plan might pose a risk to the general public,” the board wrote.
In the Aug. 26 order lifting the stay, the board said that the company’s plan establishes “protocols for identifying, avoiding and mitigating potential sources of contamination that may exist in the vicinity of the project route.”
The plan, the board said, addresses both potential PCP contamination and also other sources of contaminated soil like hazardous waste and illegal dumps. Contractors will also be proactive by looking out for high-risk areas before disturbing the ground.
If workers notice any signs of contamination, such as strange odors or stained soils more than one foot from a pole, the company will dispatch an environmental scientist to conduct a field test. In the event of a positive test, the company will immediately notify the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The board order noted that the mere presence of PCP is not cause for alarm. Rather, the Environmental Protection Agency has set standards that define unsafe levels of the chemical.
The Agency of Natural Resources worked with Vermont Gas to develop the soil plan, and not surprisingly informed the board it approves of it. The ANR also urged the Public Service Board to open a separate investigative docket into the use of PCP on utility poles. The orders related to the stay of construction were filed under docket 7970, which encompasses Phase I of the pipeline project.
The town of Monkton, however, is less enthusiastic about Vermont Gas’ soil management plan. Specifically, the board notes that the town believes the plan “is not adequate or appropriate for the task of identifying and defining the extent of PCP contamination but instead appears to be designed for identifying petroleum contamination.”
Monkton asked the board to require Vermont Gas to rewrite the plan to address PCP and creosote separately. Creosote, another chemical used to preserve wood, is made from petroleum.
The board was not swayed by the town’s arguments.
“The soil management plan is designed to assess and mitigate risks associated with contamination from a variety of sources, not just PCP-related sources,” the board wrote in its Aug. 26 order.
Several landowners — Kristin Lyons, Jane Palmer and Nathan Palmer — also filed comments with the board. They argued that the soil management plan does not adequately address public safety concerns. Specifically, the landowners said any contaminated soil should be removed, and not dumped back into the pipeline trench, as is written in the plan.
In its rebuttal, the board said the soil plan does not automatically mandate that contaminated soil is backfilled into the trench after the pipeline is laid.
“We do not interpret the soil management plan to necessarily require backfilling in inappropriate circumstances,” the board wrote.
Lyons and the Palmers argued that the Public Service Board should reopen the Certificate of Public Good, which the board issued in December. The board declined to reopen the case.
Vermont Gas began construction on the project in June, and the company has said it hopes to complete the 49-mile pipeline by the end of next year. Vermont Gas still needs to secure land use agreements from about 30 percent of the 221 landowners along the pipeline route.
Editor’s note: See the Public Service Board orders and also the actual soil management plan online at addisonindependent.com.
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