State regulators took the first step Thursday toward a reevaluation of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline from Chittenden County south to the Middlebury area.
The board granted a Certificate of Public Good for the pipeline project in December, but is seeking to take another look at it in light of a 40 percent cost increase announced by Vermont Gas in July.
The earlier decision to approve the project was appealed to the state Supreme Court (which hasn't yet ruled on it), so Thursday’s order from the board announced that the board is seeking a remand from the Vermont Supreme Court - meaning it is asking the Supreme Court to pass the case back down into the board’s jurisdiction.
If the Supreme Court grants the board’s request, it will allow the Public Service Board to reconsider the financial aspects of the project using the new cost estimates.
Sandra Levine, a senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation, said Thursday’s order “shows serious concern by the Public Service Board with the significant cost increase of the project.”
Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark says the company is “comfortable moving forward” with the project and confident that the pipeline will still bring economic and environmental benefits to the state even after the cost increase.
“We understand the reason that the board wants to take another look at this,” Wark said, acknowledging that “questions remain” about the cost increase.
Wark said Vermont Gas plans to continue construction as permitted by the Public Service Board.
Thursday’s order by the board doesn’t make any determinations about the merits of the project or what actions it could take – it says any action would be inappropriate without a remand from the Supreme Court.
“Stopping work would simply drive the cost up,” he said.
On July 14, in response to the cost increase, Levine requested on behalf of CLF that the board order Vermont Gas to stop construction and get an amended certificate of public good for the project.
The board’s order Thursday said it will address that request in a separate proceeding.