Vermont Gas Wins Eminent Domain Case For Pipeline Amid Safety Concerns

Sep 16, 2016

This week, Vermont Gas Systems got the final land rights needed in order to finish its pipeline to Addison County, though opponents of the project plan to appeal the decision.

The eminent domain decision from regulators at the Public Service Board came as the state calls for fines against the company over alleged safety violations during pipeline construction.

Until this week, a public park in Hinesburg was the only piece of land preventing Vermont Gas from finishing its 41-mile pipeline into Addison County.

Regulators ruled that the company can put its pipeline under the park.

Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent says the decision clears the way for the pipeline to finish this year.

“Our goal is to finish this project this year so we can start serving customers in Addison County,” she says.

A group of Hinesburg residents was fighting the company's request for eminent domain rights.

Jim Dumont is the group's lawyer and he says he's already planning to officially request that the board reconsider its decision.

And if that doesn't work, he says, “my clients have already instructed me to file an appeal.”

The appeal would go to the Vermont Supreme Court, and Dumont says Vermont law would require the company not to build under the park unless it gets explicit permission from the court or the court rules in Vermont Gas' favor.

Parent says she thinks the opponents should let the decision stand.

“We really want project opponents to respect this ruling,” she says. “We have thousands of people depending on us to bring this important energy choice to them.”

At the same time, Vermont Gas is defending itself against claims from the state's Department of Public Service that it didn't follow safety rules while constructing the pipeline.

An August 5 filing from the department says Vermont Gas wasn't protecting workers from the possibility of "induced voltage." That's what happens when a piece of pipeline underneath power lines picks up an electric charge from all the electricity flowing overhead.

"We dispute any claim that safety was an issue. We use common industry standards and best practices with regard to safety at Vermont Gas." - Beth Parent, Vermont Gas

“We wholly disagree with any suggestion that safety was compromised,” Parent says. “At no time was the safety of our crews or the public in danger.”

response from Vermont Gas say the company took more than 1,200 voltage readings this summer and "none of the readings approached the maximum acceptable level of 15 volts."

The Department of Public Service took its own measurements, though, and said in its letter that one reading came back at 118 volts - more than seven times the safe maximum safe voltage.

Parent's response to that allegation is the same.

“We dispute any claim that safety was an issue. We use common industry standards and best practices with regard to safety at Vermont Gas,” she says.

Whatever the reality is, someone is wrong about construction safety at Vermont Gas, whether it's the state or the company.

With construction ongoing, both sides are in talks to come to agreement on the disputed claims and decide out how to proceed.