Pipeline Disturbs Peace in Monkton

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Monkton resident Jessica Baker is angered by the proximity of the pipeline to houses. (Courtesy/VPR)

During a public meeting at the Monkton, Vt. Firehouse on Jan. 10, Monkton residents did not hesitate to voice their opinions. The meeting provided the Monkton community with an opportunity to converse with senior management of Vermont Gas Systems (VGS).

Last December, VGS applied to extend a natural gas pipeline that currently runs from Canada to Chittenden County. While this is beneficial for the recipients of the gas, the Monkton community is not pleased with the plan. The pipeline’s extended path is proposed to run through the rural town, down Pond Street and Monkton Road; the Monkton residents themselves will not be receiving any gas.

“We [VGS] are here with an open mind to discuss how to solve this problem together,” noted Steve Wark, communications director at VGS.

After VGS representatives presented the details of their plan, Ken Wheeling, the town moderator, opened the floor for discussion.

One concerned Monkton resident stepped forward, asking “How many hundreds of feet will the pipeline be from the jungle gym?”

Anxiety about the natural gas line’s proximity to the elementary school was just one of myriad concerns voiced by the townspeople. Monkton resident Kevin Corrigan, noted the pipeline would undoubtedly decimate property values.

Another resident remarked that, sadly, the common phrase “Not in my backyard” applies literally to the Monkton residents’ yards. Fences, foliage and historical trees will be removed from the pipeline’s path. Residents noted that crops will be damaged and Monkton’s aesthetic beauty will be ruined.

Frank White, a resident of Willsboro, N.Y. expressed grave concern for Lake Champlain.

“It’s beyond just the backyard!” he declared.

One resident and mother was so distraught that she couldn’t even tolerate attending the meeting. She wrote a letter stating that her young girl’s bedroom will be only 20 feet from the pipeline. Her letter was read aloud: “If my welfare or the welfare of my children matters at all, please consider changing this proposal.”

Todd Weaver articulated a common frustration at the meeting: “They [VGS] are coming and taking and we’re not getting anything.”

Weaver was one of many residents who had environmental engineers show up uninvited on his property to inspect the proposed route. Weaver remarked that the request he sent to VGS to be left alone was completely ignored.

Many residents voiced similar complaints. Monkton resident Renee McGuinness even presented VGS with notices against trespass from disgruntled townspeople.

Throughout the meeting, attendees shared several personal stories.

Monkton resident Mike Bayer noted that he will suffer greatly, as his well lies directly in the pipeline’s path. He added that the pipeline “will do a lot of damage to a lot of homes for the purpose of making money somewhere else.”

Shocking to many residents is the fact that the “somewhere else” that Bayer refers to is not even in the state of Vermont. Only about 30 percent of the gas will go to Middlebury and Vergennes, while 70 percent is intended to serve International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill across Lake Champlain in New York.

Tim Lyons, vice president of marketing and sales at VGS, remarked that there is “no way to build on the other side.”

David Sharpe of the Vermont House of Representatives also spoke at the meeting. He assured the people that they “have support in the legislature.” Sharpe hopes the pipeline issue can be resolved without legislature interference but noted that, if not, the government would certainly get involved. Sharpe emphasized that an acceptable route will be found.

As the meeting wrapped up, Don Gilbert, president and CEO of VGS commented on the productivity of the meeting.

“As hard as it has been to hear these concerns, it has been helpful,” said Gilbert.

He noted that VGS wants to continue working with the Monkton community to find an alternative route.

The Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) route is one such alternative. VGS’s initial plan for the pipeline route was along a utilities corridor owned by VELCO.

“There are a number of areas on the VELCO corridor where construction can be done without the concerns that we are seeing here in Monkton,” noted a VGS representative towards the end of the meeting.

Thus, it seems that this initial route still remains a viable option.

The question of whether the VELCO route would truly be a better option sparked debate at Thursday’s meeting. Like the residents affected along the Monkton route, many residents along the utilities corridor expressed concern for their homes and safety. Corrigan advised the town to hold a referendum to further discuss the topic. To him, it was clear that the line would be pushed back and fourth between the VELCO and Monkton routes, as residents in both locations were upset.

Many at the meeting agreed that transparency was not a primary aim of VGS. Many locals were angry that they had not even been aware of Thursday’s meeting until neighbors had mentioned it to them. One woman noted angrily that it should be the responsibility of VGS to notify the town of informational meetings. Corrigan added that homeowners on the VELCO line also didn’t know about the meeting.

While complaints regarding VGS were numerous, the company’s senior management responded apologetically.

“Are you [VGS] human?” asked one woman.

Gilbert responded that indeed they were. “We want to work with you and I want to apologize right up front,” added Gilbert.

VGS suggested holding another open-house so individuals could look at route maps, ask questions and spend more time discussing the topic.VGS acknowledged that it will not be possible to satisfy everyone, but a better solution is perhaps attainable.

VGS will have a meeting with regulators during the third week in January and, if they can get permission, they are open to route realignment. One female resident asked VGS to “please take the humanistic piece of this back to your decision makers.”

VGS management hopes to resolve the issue of routing through Monkton by the end of January.