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Bristol residents question need for natural gas pipeline

BRISTOL — Concerns, questions, support for and objections to the anticipated extension of the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline to Bristol took up a good part of Monday night’s selectboard meeting.
The meeting also brought to light some townspeople’s concerns about how the selectboard has both made and communicated its Vermont Gas-related decisions.
Early in the meeting, Bristol resident Sally Burrell gave voice to some of those concerns.
“It sounds like you want to have the (public input) meeting after you’ve finalized the agreement,” she said. “And that seems like you’re not allowing us to participate in bringing forward concerns that would be very important to the negotiations. That’s what I’m feeling left out of is the opportunity to let you know what my concerns are.”
In a similar vein, Bristol resident Alice Leeds asked: “Is it a given that they’re coming through, and we’re just talking about details? Where is there room for things to be decided? Is it just in how they’re coming through? Or is there an opportunity for  there to be some negotiation on whether this actually happens in Bristol?”
About 10 people attended Monday’s meeting, in addition to selectboard members.
The meeting’s most important outcome was the selectboard’s decision to hold a public forum in February to gather citizen input on bringing natural gas to Bristol. The selectboard also agreed to create a place on the town website with links to important Vermont Gas-related documents so citizens could be better informed. Selectboard members explained that February was the soonest they could hold such a forum because December and January are devoted to developing the municipal budget in time for town meeting.
Burrell, who is also a member of Bristol’s Communications Committee, said that, as with the discussion of the proposed LED message board in front of Holley Hall this past spring, she felt unsure as to when in the process the selectboard would seek public input and concerned that it might not seek citizen input in a timely fashion.
At the June 26 selectboard meeting, then-Town Administrator Therese Kirby recommended that the board hold a forum at its Sep. 18 meeting. But after Kirby left, that recommendation wasn’t acted upon.
At Monday’s meeting, selectboard members clarified two important actions in the town’s five-year engagement with the project:
•  On Dec. 17, 2012, the Bristol selectboard voted to support Vermont Gas’s proposed extension of natural gas to Addison County and to affirm “the town’s desire to take advantage of natural gas if it becomes available,” according to selectboard minutes.
•  On Dec. 18, 2012, Town Administrator William Bryant sent a letter to the state utility regulator communicating that the selectboard had “voted to support the expansion project, including service to Bristol.” The letter then sketched out a series of conditions. The letter stated that “the town of Bristol has an interest in receiving natural gas service supplied by the Vermont Gas Company and commits in principle to being supplied natural gas service by the Vermont Gas Company.”
In 2012, the selectboard included current selectboard members Joel Bouvier and John “Peeker” Heffernan, together with Sharon Compagna, Carol Wells and Alan Huizenga. Chico Martin, the town’s representative to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, at that time told the selectboard that the ACRPC supported the project and urged the selectboard to vote on the matter and craft a letter immediately so the town’s letter could be submitted to the regulator the next day along with materials from the ACRPC.
One year later, on Dec. 23, 2013, the Public Service Board greenlighted the Addison Natural Gas Project, issuing a Certificate of Public Good and a Final Order.
But what those documents mean for Bristol isn’t fully spelled out.
At its Dec. 4 meeting, the selectboard fielded further questions about where the project stands now. The selectboard clarified that it was in the midst of drafting a licensing agreement with Vermont Gas.
Earlier in the summer, the town had submitted to Vermont Gas a draft of the licensing agreement that had been put together by Kirby and by selectboard member Michelle Perlee. At Monday’s meeting, Town Administrator Valerie Capels said Vermont Gas had in the past two weeks returned that draft marked up with its own suggested changes.
In a follow-up interview, Capels said the selectboard would discuss the draft licensing agreement at an upcoming meeting in December.
While some safety concerns were discussed at Monday’s meeting, most residents who attended were concerned about the town’s committing to a big infrastructure project that delivered a non-renewable source of energy.
Bristol resident Patty Heather-Lea read a prepared statement citing a host of ongoing criticisms of the project including: cost overruns, higher than promised costs to consumers, alleged violations of blasting rules and other component’s of the project’s Certificate of Public Good, the project’s being investigated by the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and science showing that methane gas is “not clean.”
Said Bristol resident Alice Leeds: “You hear about natural gas as a bridge fuel but our long-term goal is to get into more renewable energy sources. People are getting heat pumps and different kinds of stoves. This is one of a number of options that people consider when they’re thinking how they’re going to heat their home … We’re putting this major infrastructure, all of this pipe into the ground. It sounds like we have a lot of assurances and a lot of testimonials that it’s reliable. But it seems like a lot to do to the town for one of the options and an option that hopefully down the road we will not be using as we’re going into more renewable sources of energy.”
Various selectboard members responded that the project would cost the town nothing and would bring in tax revenue.
Burrell questioned to what extent the town was bound by its 2012 letter to the regulator: “Honestly, 2012 — that was so long ago and so much has changed in those years as far as the amazing technologies now and local renewables available. There’s so many changes in the past five years that that 2012 request seems outdated. And it seems like it should be a newly discussed thing with a lot of input from the town about whether we really feel that for Bristol overall … is that really wise.”
Bristol resident Kevin Hanson sees natural gas coming to Bristol as a good thing.
“I’m in favor of it,” he said. “Fuel oil creates greater emissions. People talk about fracked this and fracked that, oil as well as gas, so that’s an even playing field as far as I’m concerned.”
Hanson said he thought that natural gas prices would be more stable than fuel oil and said that Vermont Gas has put aside a “kitty to prepay for this” so that customers won’t be unduly affected.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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