Regulators Deny Vermont Gas Request To Boot Hinesburg Residents From Pipeline Case

Aug 3, 2016

Vermont regulators have denied a request from Vermont Gas to kick a group of Hinesburg residents out of legal proceedings related to the company’s plans to build its pipeline through a park in Hinesburg.

The residents group is fighting to prevent Vermont Gas from building its pipeline through a wetland area in Geprags Park in Hinesburg.

A scientist hired by the residents revealed that the company’s permit application for the wetland was incomplete and a new permit was needed. The residents group asked the Public Service Board – Vermont’s three-member utility regulation board – to make the company stop all construction on the pipeline until that permit issue was resolved.

They also plan to present their legal case before the Public Service Board on Thursday. Bill Marks, a member of Hinesburg's Conservation Commission, which oversees the park, is one of the Hinesburg residents in the case. He told VPR in May that the group plans to rely on precedent set in 1928 by the Vermont Supreme Court. In a similar case, the court ruled that once lands are dedicated to public use (as Geprags Park is), they cannot be repurposed for a different public use through eminent domain.

In a July 29 filing, Vermont Gas requested that the board remove the nine Hinesburg residents from the case. The company argued that the group should be kicked off because they had not submitted any filings “justifying” their reason for being involved in the case, and because they had abused their legal standing in the case to stall the proceedings inappropriately.

The Public Service Board denied the company's request and kept the residents on the case.

The Vermont Gas request said the residents were required under board rules to submit testimony backing up their claims that they were especially frequent visitors to the park. It also said that the request to stop all pipeline construction was a bad-faith effort to stall the pipeline.

Wednesday, the Shumlin administration’s Department of Public Service, which is tasked with representing the public, backed Vermont Gas’ request.

In a letter asking the board to kick the Hinesburg residents off the case, Department of Public Service Special Counsel Louise Porter said that “[t]he residents have clearly demonstrated that their continued participation will not assist the Board as expected when intervention was allowed, and is likely to create undue delay and jeopardize the timely completion of the Project to the detriment of the rate-paying public.”

The Public Service Board denied the request and kept the residents on the case. The board said that its members “are not persuaded that VGS has adequately demonstrated that the Residents’ conduct to date has resulted in a delay that would justify revoking their intervenor status.”

The major hearing in the eminent domain case for the park is set for Thursday morning at 9:30 in Berlin. ORCA Media is planning to live stream the hearing here.

For live coverage from the hearing, follow reporters @taylordobbs and @kathmasterson on Twitter.