Letter to the editor: Vermont Gas should pay for Middlebury land use

Editor’s note: The writer sent this to the Middlebury selectboard and cc’d the Independent.

Dear Middlebury selectboard,

Following our discussion about the request from Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) for an easement across town property at the last selectboard meeting, I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify my position since there appeared to be some confusion. While I am not happy with the decision of St. Stephen’s to install a fracked gas fired boiler in their church, if that is the best decision the congregation can come up with, I can live with it. What I cannot in good conscience live with is the selectboard granting VGS use of town property to facilitate the build out of additional fossil fuel infrastructure without receiving compensation for the land conveyance.

Historically the only businesses granted free use of town rights-of-way have been utilities whose services have tended to greatly improved the quality of life for the entire community. Today, the benefits of Vermont Gas services can almost always be accomplished by other means, and the primary product that Vermont Gas is peddling contributes to the unraveling of the climate, which is creating extra problems and expenses for the town and its residents. Researchers have found that the carbon dioxide released from burning natural gas combined with the fugitive leakage of methane from the fracking wells, transmission and service lines and end users, means that natural gas is often just as harmful to the environment as coal and sometimes worse. The idea that gas is the cleaner choice compared to coal and fuel oil is the result of a fossil-fuel industry misinformation campaign designed to delay the transition away from this dirty and destructive fuel. 

Rather than receive handouts from the citizens of Middlebury, I believe that Vermont Gas and all the fossil-fuel companies that do business in Vermont should be paying the town of Middlebury to help us cover the additional costs associated with the extreme weather events we are enduring. This past year, even our state legislature passed legislation based upon this principal. It is time to let go of the idea that we need to be subsidizing the business model of the fossil-fuel industry. I cannot in good conscience sit idly by while the selectboard provides financial assistance in the form of free rights-of-way to a company that is building out additional fossil-fuel infrastructure. Since all taxpaying residents of Middlebury collectively own the town’s land, if the selectboard decides to allow VGS access to use town property for their business, the company should be charged the fair market value for the access. I am committed to doing everything I can to see that this happens. VGS is making large profits from their infrastructure and their parent company in Canada is a multi-billion-dollar company that can afford to cover the costs of doing business in Middlebury without the need for any form of corporate welfare; they don’t need it and they don’t deserve it. While the actual costs we are talking about here are not exorbitant, it’s the principal of the thing that is important here. 

Some suggest that the taxes VGS pays on its infrastructure is enough and we don’t need to charge for land access as well. If that is the case then why don’t we provide free rights-of-way to other businesses in Middlebury some of whom also pay significant taxes on their infrastructure and buildings? Why should VGS be the only business to pay taxes on its infrastructure in Middlebury and receives free right-of-way access to town land when they want it? There is no business person that I know of that would routinely give away valuable property to a vendor that provides their business with a service that contributes to creating more problems and expenses for their business. I am asking that you negotiate and receive fair compensation from Vermont Gas for use of town land and stop providing it for free. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. 

Ross Conrad


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