Monkton blasting prompts call for another pipeline investigation

MONKTON — Monkton resident Kristin Lyons is asking the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to investigate a blasting incident that affected her Monkton property in June 2016. Bristol attorney Jim Dumont filed the request with the PUC on Sept. 13.
Lyons says an investigation is necessary to hold the company accountable for not adhering to agreements set out in the Certificate of Public Good (CPG) authorizing construction of the Addison Natural Gas Project, the pipeline that is bringing natural gas from Colchester to Middlebury.
Lyons said she is asking for an investigation now because the blasting accident was extremely frightening.
“As I learned more to get to the bottom of how that possibly could have happened and why, it got more frightening by the moment because as it turns out many different violations of the blasting order occurred,” Lyons said. “There was absolutely no accountability from Vermont Gas about any of this. They blamed the subcontractors, who in turn blamed them. And it was very clear that nothing was going to happen unless I pursued it. This would have been swept under the rug.”
Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent said her company would defend its record.
“We are confident we met all notification requirements as set forth in the blasting plan and do not believe an investigation is needed,” she said. “Of course we stand prepared to provide the PUC with any additional information needed to conclude this matter.”
According to Lyons, the company contacted her on June 21, 2016, to let her know that a blasting incident had affected her property. The blasting took place along Old Stage Road, toward the rear of the 20.7-acre property where Lyons lives with her two teenage sons. Originally, the Addison Natural Gas pipeline was to go through Lyons’s property. But she issued a no trespass order, and VGS relocated the route to avoid imminent domain litigation, according to legal documents.
A video of the blast taken by subcontractor Maine Drilling and Blasting, as part of its routine blasting processes, shows an explosion that throws rocks, dirt and debris into the air.
“What you see in that video is not supposed to happen,” Dumont said. “Normally it’s all contained under the blasting mats that are made of tires chained together.”
After the June 21 call from VGS, Lyons went out to inspect her property.
“It was quite a scene,” Lyons said. She said that an area of several hundred feet that had been “heavily shrubbed” now looked “like it had been clear cut pretty much.”
Pipeline workers had removed several trees, leaving stumps (in violation, she said, of the no trespass order). Many saplings were broken in half. And a number of full-grown trees had scorch marks going nine to 10 feet high up their trunks.
She immediately called Dumont and filed a lawsuit in civil court. Via mediation, the VGS settled the suit for $10,000 to Lyons plus legal fees. Additionally, Vermont Gas agreed to report to the Public Utilities Commission by Aug. 11, 2017, to address any of Lyons’ allegations that were still outstanding.
In a letter submitted to the PUC on Aug. 11, Vermont Gas countered each of five outstanding allegations and gave its own arguments for how its processes abided by the CPG in relation to Lyons’ claims of:
•  No 24-hour notice of blasting.
•  No posting.
•  No pre-blast security outside the easement area.
•  No VGS on-site representative.
•  Breach of the Monkton memorandum of understanding/board order by denial of liability.
Parent said that in response to the incident, the company took appropriate action.
“During our work, some damage to trees occurred on Ms. Lyons’s property. We immediately notified her and have resolved this issue with Ms. Lyons,” Parent said.
In his Sept. 13 filing, Dumont reiterated and expanded on arguments as to why the incident demonstrated that Vermont Gas violated the CPG in this particular blasting incident and cited VGS’s Aug. 11 answers to the allegations as insufficient.
Dumont asked that the PUC not only investigate the June 20, 2016, incident but called on the PUC to investigate whether “these violations of the blasting plan … were typical of VGS’s and its contractors actions when blasting along the entire pipeline route.”
Both parties are now awaiting the Public Utilities Commission’s response.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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