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Gas pipeline petition filed in Middlebury, a town meeting will be called

MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury man on Sept. 11 filed a petition with more than enough signatures to force a special town meeting at which residents will weigh in on whether the community should charge Vermont Gas Systems for the pipeline easements it is seeking on town-owned property.
The petition, spearheaded by resident Ross Conrad, asks residents if they’d like to endorse the three free easements the selectboard recently awarded to Vermont Gas, which is completing natural gas connections to various homes and businesses in the community. The first easement involves the municipal parking lot north of Cross Street, behind the town office and Ilsley Library buildings. The second easement will affect the municipal parking lot south of Cross Street, near Mister Up’s Restaurant. And the third easement will affect the municipal parking lot off 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.
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.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter countered the town traditionally hasn’t charged for easements needed by public utilities that serve town residents. Vermont Gas pays property taxes on its pipeline infrastructure.
So Conrad decided to bring the matter to local voters at a special town meeting. He and some helpers ultimately gathered more than 400 signatures on the petition, which comfortably eclipsed the minimum 245 needed to make it valid.
The selectboard will now turn its attention to scheduling the special town meeting. According to state statutes, the selectboard must set the date for the special town meeting within 60 days of the receipt of the petition, which means no later than Nov. 11, according to Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay.
Conrad is pleased he and fellow residents will be able to weigh in on the easements matter.
“Vermont Gas has had to double the costs of their pipeline — why can’t they spend a fraction of these funds to pay for the town’s land that they are taking to use for profit instead of looking for a corporate handout?” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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