Vermont Gas pipeline easements spur petition
MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury resident is petitioning for a special town meeting he hopes will lead to Vermont Gas having to pay for the three easements it is seeking on town property to advance its natural gas pipeline, as opposed to receiving those easements for free.
The Middlebury selectboard early this month voted to give Vermont Gas the three easements “to construct, reconstruct, maintain, move, relocate, alter, inspect, repair, replace, remove, change the size of, and abandon in place pipelines” integral to its Addison Natural Gas Project that will deliver natural gas to Middlebury, Vergennes and eventually other area locations.
According to town officials, the first easement involves the municipal parking lot parcel located on the northerly side of Cross Street, behind the town office and Ilsley Library buildings. The second easement will affect the municipal parking lot located on the southerly side of Cross Street, near Mister Up’s Restaurant. And the third easement will affect the municipal parking lot located on Mill Street. Each easement will be 10 feet wide — five feet on either side of the pipelines as they are installed, and will include rights of access and other terms and conditions spelled out in the easement deeds.
Resident Ross Conrad argued the town should have negotiated with Vermont Gas for a fair market price for the easements. The community should not give up an asset to a utility that is deriving revenue from it, he said.
“(Vermont Gas) almost always goes through road right-of-ways,” Conrad said of the company’s pipeline location strategy. “So this is a very unique situation, and unfortunately, it was dealt with as kind of ‘business as usual,’ and I don’t think it deserves that.”
So Conrad a few weeks ago began circulating his petition, which asked that a special town meeting at which residents will be asked to either endorse or reject the selectboard’s decision to grant the pipeline easements for free.
Conrad has been a vocal opponent of the pipeline, but said his petition is not an attempt to stymie the project.
“The pipeline is here,” he said. “Now we’ve got to make the best of it.”
He’s had a few people help him gather signatures, and the petition is available for signing at the Wonderland Boutique at 58 Main St. Last week he reported having 150 of the minimum 450 signatures he needs.
“People seem pretty open to the petition,” he said. “Some people have signed it saying they are in support of the gas pipeline, but they still think Vermont Gas can afford to pay some compensation for use of the town land.”
He must file his petition at the town clerk’s office by mid-September in order to clinch the special town meeting.
Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent gave the following statement on the Middlebury easements:
“The majority of our distribution lines will be installed in the municipal right of way,” she said. “However, Vermont Gas is requesting three easements from the town of Middlebury which are necessary in order to provide service to a portion of the downtown area. Vermont Gas has not, in the past, compensated other municipalities for distribution easements to provide service to residents and to our knowledge Middlebury has not asked for compensation from other private utilities for similar easements … Vermont Gas hopes we can resolve this issue soon so we can continue to provide service to all of the families and businesses who have requested it.”
Vermont Gas pays property taxes on its pipeline infrastructure.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said he and his colleagues considered Conrad’s argument, but in the end determined Vermont Gas shouldn’t have to pay for the three easements.
“We have traditionally not charged or asked for compensation for easements needed by public utilities serving town residents,” Carpenter said.
He added town officials reached out to other communities about the issue, and learned that some towns have negotiated payment for easements on public property under which large transmission pipeline was placed. But he said they found no precedent for charging for easements for the smaller distribution pipelines.
Middlebury selectboard members gained a greater comfort level granting the free easements when Vermont Gas agreed to relocate the related distribution lines if the town decides to used the effected land in the future, according to Carpenter.
“I thought it was a fair concession to gain from Vermont Gas,” he said.
Anyone wanting more information on Conrad’s petition can contact him at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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