Bristol residents sue their town, Vt. Gas

BRISTOL — Thirty-seven Bristol residents have sued their town and Vermont Gas Systems alleging that a recent agreement allowing the company to install a natural gas pipeline in Bristol violates a Vermont statute.
Their suit contends that the Bristol selectboard did not follow the rules for proper public notification before signing the agreement.
Attorney James Dumont, representing the plaintiffs in the suit filed in Addison Superior Court Aug. 9, said Vermont law forbids any selectboard from entering into such an agreement without issuing a formal notice informing the public of their right to petition for a binding vote.
“After being notified of this duty, the (Bristol) selectboard instead chose to immediately sign with VGS,” Dumont said in a press release. “Superior Court action has been filed to carry out the Legislature’s intent that the public be given an opportunity to vote.”
Sally Burrell, one of the plaintiffs, said the pipeline will affect the safety, property values and environmental integrity of Bristol.
“Natural gas distribution lines, if damaged by forces of nature, digging or aging, can produce explosions with catastrophic effects on people and property,” she said in the release. “Such accidents occur 124-170 times per year around the country. These lines will complicate the repair and maintenance of existing water pipes and other underground utilities in Bristol.”
In addition to the alleged public notification violation, plaintiff Alice Leeds raised the issue of natural gas and its affect on climate change.
“Once considered a bridge to renewable energy, natural gas is now known to be 30-100 times more damaging to our environment than oil,” she said in the press release. “The gas escapes into the atmosphere during extraction, processing, storage, transmission and distribution — not during burning. When the gas company says it is a clean fuel, they are just comparing the carbon released when burning gas with the carbon released when burning of oil, which ignores the scientific evidence.”
Burrell made the case against one of Vermont Gas’s selling point for its product, which is outside the scope of the alleged selectboard violation.
“While natural gas is currently less expensive than other heating fuels, there is no guarantee this advantage will last. State regulators control the cost of natural gas and are presently maintaining its low price tag,” she said in the release. “State programs like Efficiency Vermont provide assistance with energy audits, weatherization and locally based sustainable energy alternatives, all of which are better investments, and better for our community, than natural gas.”
In response to a question about this lawsuit, Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent told Vermont Public Radio that the “company would support a public vote on the rights of way, if that’s what the town decides.”

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