Pipeline completion awaits Supreme Court decision
Editor’s note: The article that originally appeared under this headline was an older pipeline story; it is replaced below with the correct story as it appeared in the Nov. 21 print edition of the Independent. We appologize for the error.
VERMONT — Vermont Gas Systems is wrapping up installation of the bulk of its Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline while it awaits court action on a 2,000-foot section in Geprags Park in Hinesburg.
Included in this final work, the South Burlington company is adding as much as an inch of dirt over the pipeline so that it is buried at depths agreed upon in memorandums of understanding with individual towns and landowners.
“In some cases, when the ground settles after everything is put back into place it may be off by an inch or less,” said Vermont Gas Communications Manager Beth Parent. “It’s a highly technical process, and we are doing analysis and making adjustments as necessary as part of the cleanup process. In some cases, we’re out there, we’re laying seed, but this is part of the cleanup inspection.”
Vermont Gas expects to complete the cleanup phase in a couple of weeks, she said.
Parent said of the sites needing additional topsoil, “they’re very small, individual locations … and we are requiring accuracy up to the smallest measure” but did not provide additional details or locations for that extra work.
She said the extra layer of soil was not in response to code violations.
In terms of completing the remaining 2,000 feet in Geprags Park, construction on the Addison Natural Gas Project has been halted as the company awaits the Vermont Supreme Court’s response to an appeal filed by Bristol attorney Jim Dumont.
The 85.5-acre Geprags Park was donated to the town of Hinesburg exclusively for use as a “public park or school or for public recreational or educational purposes.” Dumont represents seven Hinesburg residents who want to protect the park for those purposes. The Public Service Board issued a condemnation order on Sep. 12, which greenlighted Vermont Gas’s pathway through the park and instructed it to use directional drilling under a wetland area.
When the PSB denied Dumont’s request to reconsider its decision, Dumont took the case to the Supreme Court. That appeal went into effect on Nov. 3 and automatically included a stay on construction. Vermont Gas has asked the court to lift the stay. Last week Dumont filed additional materials arguing why the stay should remain in effect, including testimony from Ripton environmentalist Bill McKibben as to the environmental effects of natural gas.
According to VTDigger.org, McKibben argued against Vermont Gas’s claim that completing the pipeline this winter will reduce Vermonters’ greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont Gas says heating oil and propane cause more harm to the climate when burned than methane does. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane.
“In fact, the opposite is true,” McKibben said in an affidavit dated Nov. 8. “Any delay in the use of the pipeline will actually decrease Vermont’s contributions of greenhouse gases.”
The fact that methane emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels during combustion, McKibben said, is “clearly a red herring.”
The last three years, since the state granted Vermont Gas a permit for the pipeline, have seen advances in climate science showing that natural gas has no less an effect on the atmosphere than does coal, McKibben said in the filing.
The changing consensus has nothing to do with whether methane, coal or oil burns cleaner, McKibben said.
Instead, he said, scientists have recently found that gas producers lose enough methane while producing and transporting natural gas that any benefits from cleaner combustion are outweighed.
The delay also won’t cost Vermonters through their heating bills, Dumont claims.
He submitted to the court a rate analysis that shows most Vermonters will save money by using heating oil or propane this winter instead of the natural gas Vermont Gas hopes to supply with its pipeline.
He said the analyses Vermont Gas used to persuade the Public Service Board to approve its permit relied on years-old information, from when oil cost much more.
Furthermore, it’s the fault of Vermont Gas that the company is arguing for an easement across Geprags Park after all but 2,000 feet of the pipeline has been built, Dumont said.
Vermont Gas wants to move ahead with construction, and told the court that it incurs about $750,000 in nonrecoverable expenses for every month of delay.
“The Public Service Board has granted us approval to access this parcel, and we believe it’s time for project opponents to respect that ruling,” said Parent.
Dumont countered that respecting the law means that condemning public land must proceed according to statute and go before the Legislature.
“If Vermont Gas or some other utility wants to use eminent domain against a public park, the law says, ‘Go to the Legislature and if you can convince the legislature you can do it,’” he said. “But if you can’t convince the Legislature, you can’t go to the Public Service Board and say, ‘Give us that right.’”