Bristol board nears vote on natural gas agreement

BRISTOL — The Bristol selectboard at its Feb. 19 meeting inched closer to signing a license agreement with Vermont Gas Systems to bring natural gas service to Bristol.
“At some point we’re going to have to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on this,” said selectboard member Peter Coffey. Convinced the pipeline would attract new businesses to Bristol and increase the town’s grand list, he announced he was prepared to vote in favor of the project.
Selectboard member Michelle Perlee also said she would vote “yes.”
“I see other sides to the issue, but I have to look at how this is going to affect the majority,” she said, adding that she wants to give Bristol residents more options.
Neither selectboard chair John “Peeker” Heffernan nor member Ted Lylis voiced their positions on the matter. Joel Bouvier was absent.
Rather than debating the details of the proposed agreement, the selectboard had intended to recap the Feb. 12 public forum on Vermont Gas and consider “next steps,” said town administrator Valerie Capels at the meeting. But the discussion still provoked considerable response from both supporters and opponents of the pipeline project.
“There’s this sense of rushing ahead,” said Bristol resident Jennifer Vyhnak, and rumors that the license agreement was “a done deal” had made it difficult to further engage town residents on the issue.
Donald Miller pointed out that the Department of Public Service wants to fine Vermont Gas $25,000 for burying an Addison County pipeline in violation of its permit, and that the company had been assessed other fines for environmental violations in Vermont. He said he hoped the Bristol agreement would include provisions for holding the company accountable.
Jim Quaglino said he was in favor of the pipeline, even though it would not serve his home.
“This is six years in the making,” he said. “People should have started coming to selectboard meetings before.”
The board briefly discussed the possibility of scheduling a non-binding vote for district residents, but no motions were made at the meeting.
Vyhnak encouraged everyone in attendance to watch “Gasland,” a 2010 documentary critical of the natural gas industry; it will be screened on March 2, 6:30 p.m., at the Bristol firehouse.
In other business, the selectboard reviewed job descriptions and advertising timelines for the Bristol police chief and for town road foreman.
Heffernan pointed out that language in the police chief job description created the possibility of a four-officer department, should they fill the position with a candidate not currently serving on the force. The board expressed agreement that whatever the outcome, such personnel decisions would be constrained by the police district’s budget.
Coffey voiced concerns about achieving parity between the police chief’s and road foreman’s salaries, which the board agreed to discuss at a later time.
The selectboard hopes to hire a road foreman no later than May and expects the new police chief to assume duties July 1.
Email Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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