Opinion: Cornwall wise to halt Vt. Gas talks

Boy am I glad I am not a selectboard member in Cornwall right now.
Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. To recap the situation, in a nutshell, Vermont Gas/Gaz Métro proposed a high-pressure fracked gas pipeline through Cornwall and Shoreham and under the lake to reach its potentially most lucrative customer ever, and the majority of voters in Cornwall and Shoreham (at their respective town meetings last year), told VGS to go pound salt.
So, the methods the gas company uses … basically bullying and scare tactics (It’s a done deal … it’s coming no matter what you do or say … you might as well strike the best deal you can … yada yada yada…) didn’t work well with Cornwall. The selectboard heard loud and clear from their constituents that they didn’t want this fracking gas pipeline no way no how and the selectboard conveyed that message to VGS.
Thankfully, the laws on the Vermont books say that unless the utility project provides some “public good” it should not be granted a “certificate of public good” (CPG). Simple enough.
But VGS/Gaz Métro is relentless in its quest for the IP prize so it called in their new management (read, “big guns”) and they met with the Cornwall selectboard and the town attorney and made an offer they thought Cornwall couldn’t refuse. Ah … money. Anyone can be bought, no?
And if, on top of the extra moolah, VGS were to, say, propose that it would hook up 50 percent of Cornwall properties so they too could suck on that methane tube, well, that would take care of the public good part, right? (The 50 percent figure is highly unlikely when you consider this: Cornwall has an average housing unit density of 16.2 per square mile. This is opposed to Middlebury’s 71.9 per square mile and Vergennes’ 429.6 per square mile.)
No more claiming Cornwall is just being used as a corridor for Gaz Métro to get to IP. Phase 2 would be more resembling a project that would actually benefit those that live in Cornwall and Shoreham. This could mean a CPG for Phase 2 from the PSB would be a shoo-in. Hmm.
So … the Cornwall selectboard has a choice. Take the offer VGS has underhandedly presented and sign an MOU securing some financial benefits to their town, essentially guaranteeing the CPG is approved … or … not sign an MOU and take the chance that if Phase 2 actually does receive a CPG that the Public Service Board will cut the town a fair deal. Door number 1? Or door number 2?
Wait a minute. I have some questions. Aren’t the Public Service Board and the Department of Public Service supposed to be watching out for the public? ( I know, I know, but bear with me here.) Wouldn’t it be THEIR job to tell VGS that if they are going to shove this pipeline down the throats of the people of Cornwall and Shoreham, that they have to make sure VGS does the right thing and there really is some PUBLIC GOOD involved here? I mean, isn’t that the way this 248 process is supposed to work?
This seems a rather duplicitous way for VGS to get a CPG for Phase 2. In return for money, it gets the town of Cornwall to give the project its blessing so the PSB can feel all warm and fuzzy about granting a CPG. Are the three members of the PSB living in sequestration where they will not hear about this “sweet deal”? Are they allowed to ignore the people of Cornwall and Shoreham who have voted against this project and say, Sorry folks, this is for your own “public good” and you are going to have to take this pipeline up your you know what whether you like it or not?
What is wrong with this picture? Why isn’t democracy weighing in heavily on this issue? Why is a public utility putting pressure on our elected officials to go against the clearly stated position of their constituents? Why is the public being auctioned off to the highest bidder?
What about other selectboards that have signed MOU’s with VGS because they thought that was the only way of getting a fair deal for their town … but their deals weren’t nearly as sweet as the one Cornwall is being offered? Is Cornwall getting paid more because they have been such a hard nut to crack?  Why would Cornwall deserve more compensation than say, Monkton?
Since the Cornwall selectboard tabled their vote on this matter, VGS has announced not only another significant price increase on Phase 1, but a “hold” on the approval process on Phase 2. Another chin-scratching moment here. Why on earth would VGS want to put a hold on the approval process at this point when only recently they were asking to move up the technical hearing date from January 2015 to November or December 2014 and there has been nothing but push-push-push from VGS from the start of this entire project? Could this have something to do with the time-out the Cornwall selectboard has called on signing an MOU with VGS?
I think we all know the answer to that. The new “don” at VGS is a smart and experienced utility negotiator. He knows VGS needs the support of the town of Cornwall or the CPG for Phase 2 will likely go up in smoke.
So it would seem that the fate of Phase 2 and possibly the entire pipeline is in the hands of the selectboard in Cornwall and they have to choose between a lot of money that could mean a tax break for their town, or take a chance and let the system work the way it’s supposed to but knowing that VGS will not give the same compensation unless they get the MOU signed now.
If that isn’t a corrupted and convoluted process that more resembles a high-pressure sales tactic than a public approval process, I don’t know what is and, like I said, I would not want to be one of those selectboard members right now.
This project should be judged on its merits and the benefits it will actually provide to the residents of Addison County. The way VGS is manipulating the 248 process is a prime example of corporate fascism and the people of Addison County are watching.
Jane Palmer

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