Landowners protest at Vermont Gas headquarters

Nathan and Jane Palmer of Monkton are not happy that a proposed natural gas pipeline is slated to go through their property. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Nathan and Jane Palmer of Monkton are not happy that a proposed natural gas pipeline is slated to go through their property. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Landowners affected by Vermont Gas’ pipeline extension through Addison County occupied the natural gas utility’s South Burlington headquarters Wednesday. One Monkton resident was arrested for trespassing.

The landowners are calling on the utility, a subsidiary of Gaz Metro, to publicly admit that land agents trespassed on private property. The landowners are also demanding that the company drop prosecution of protesters and negotiate fair right of way agreements.

Jane Palmer, Maren Vasatka and Claire Broughton, residents of Monkton, and Mary Martin of Cornwall own residences in the path of the proposed pipeline extension. The company has begun staging for the construction of the first phase of pipeline.

South Burlington Detective Ron Bliss said Palmer was arrested for trespassing. He said the other residents left after receiving a trespass notice Wednesday afternoon.

Jim Sinclair, vice president of sales, marketing and service for Vermont Gas, said the company is trying to reach an “amicable agreement” with the landowners, which he said includes meeting with landowners individually.

State regulators gave the company a certificate of public good to build the pipeline last year. The company is allowed to use eminent domain, a process in which the Public Service Board determines a price for the company to pay the landowners to use their land for the pipeline. Vermont Gas has not yet pursued eminent domain.

The company has sent letters to several landowners with offers and a notice that the company can take the land through eminent domain if they refuse the offer.

“It is in this case a last resort,” Sinclair said. “We will continue to do everything we can to avoid that.”

He said he was not aware that the land agents contracted by Vermont Gas had trespassed on the landowners’ property. Several landowners say the agents surveyed their land without permission.

Vermont Gas alleges that an employee was assaulted during a previous incident in which a protester chained herself to the company’s front door. Bliss said the company is still seeking to identify the protester who committed the alleged assault.

“We certainly support the right of people to express their viewpoint as long as they do so peacefully,” Sinclair said.

He said the protesters last month crossed the line.

John HerrickJohn Herrick

Comments

  1. Jeff Noordsy :

    “He said he was not aware that the land agents contracted by Vermont Gas had trespassed on the landowners’ property. ”

    Welcome to the theatre of the absurd. It has been documented MANY times that VT Gas and their land agents have trespassed on private lands. Heck, VT Gas has even APOLOGIZED for doing so. Give me a dern break.

    • Jeff Noordsy :

      Let’s see, a representative of the gas company has been caught red-handed in yet another deceit and once again we are being told that the public (and the public service board) is being fed bogus numbers. Cost projections were off by FORTY PERCENT. Where is the outrage?

  2. Jeff Noordsy :
    • Kai Mikkel Forlie :

      Wow – A 40% increase in the cost of the project; originally budgeted at US$86M and now US$121.6M. And all borne by VT Gaz customers. We all knew this would happen so let’s mark this event as the first of the many rate hikes to come. What a complete and utter sham.

    • Jeff Noordsy :

      Last I checked two of the basic tenets of conservatism are fiscal responsibility and the protection of property rights. Why is it those beliefs are so conveniently thrown out the window when it comes to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure? And before some of the far right set their hair on fire and come after me as some sort of left wing nut job …. I am not one. I actually hold a mixture of political beliefs (imagine that – a free thinker, not someone regurgitating left or right wing talking points!). I am simply asking a question of the hardline ideologues.

      • Paul Lorenzini :

        good question, and in VT we are on top of that I believe, that is why we hold Republican’s suspect, even if we don’t like globalist, Agenda 21 Progressives.

  3. Damon Weinberg :

    Vermont Public Radio is reporting that at today’s protest:

    “[Vermont Gas employee Tom] Murray asked the media to leave the headquarters at 5 p.m. Murray physically pushed Seven Days reporter Kathryn Flagg toward the door when she did not immediately comply.”

    Such violence (directed toward a law-abiding journalist just doing her job, no less!) has no place in this dispute and should not be tolerated. I urge South Burlington Police to investigate this allegation and file appropriate charges against Mr. Murray.

    http://digital.vpr.net/post/protesters-stage-knit-vermont-gas-offices

  4. Maren Vasatka :

    The newest is VGS is now presenting us with appraisals VGS conducted and they include photos of our properties while trespassing to get those photos. The photos and the reports are date stamped and the dates are well after the homeowners presented VGS with no trespass notices. We offered to show those to them at the knit in but Eileen wouldn’t look at them. Of course not.

  5. Jane Palmer :

    Mr Sinclair of VGS/Gaz Metro says they will continue to do everything that they can to avoid using eminent domain. But their land agents bring it up on the first meeting with homeowners so the threat is on the table from the get go. Maybe it is a last legal resort, but it feels more like they are holding a knife to our throats while they ask us politely to “amicably agree” to sell them an easement on our land on their terms.

  6. Wayne Andrews :

    I am pretty sure that a licenses surveyor and his team are allowed by law to “trespass” on land of others to create a survey. Survey being a noun and a legal document.

    • Annette Smith :

      What makes you pretty sure of that? VGS and their employees and anyone associated with VGS have been served with Notices Against Trespass by many landowners along the pipeline route. Licensed surveyors do not have the right to be on private property without permission, and especially property where the companies have been notified ahead of time.

    • Maren Vasatka :

      Wayne, that is absolutely not correct. There is no provision for appraisers to be allowed legal access to anyone’s property. It is customary for them to contact the homeowner and ask for permission to enter the property. If they are not given it they take photos from the road and prepare their reports off public information at the town clerks office. Absolutely NO right for them to enter without permission.

  7. Jeff Noordsy :

    Why let facts get in the way of a good argument?

    http://www.amerisurv.com/content/view/4239/136/

  8. Vermont Gas is working overtime against themselves. This gets funnier with every passing week.

    If there are any responsible human beings located in the front offices of that company: you’ve got a lot of people to fire if you want to stay solvent into 2015.

  9. Annette Smith :

    Kudos to the Burlington Free Press for their excellent video of the landowners respectfully stating their demands and asking to be heard.http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/vermont/2014/07/02/woman-arrested-knit-protest-pipeline/12118239/.

    One thing to note is that VGS probably had a conference room and Eileen could have politely asked the landowners to come meet with them in their conference room. Instead, she told them to go outside. VGS has been treating these landowners very unprofessionally. The landowners’ requests are reasonable, and they were most polite in their approach. This wouldn’t be happening if VGS was conducting business in a respectful way.

  10. Steven Farnham :

    FYI (For y’all’s information)…

    Fifth Amendment to the constitution (from http://www.constitution.org/billofr_.htm):

    “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, NOR BE DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY, OR PROPERTY, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW; NOR SHALL PRIVATE PROPERTY BE TAKEN FOR PUBLIC USE, WITHOUT JUST COMPENSATION.”

    (Capitals added for emphasis.)

    Questions:

    1. The fifth Amendment concerns how those accused of crime shall be treated; does it, in any way, imply anything about how law-abiding citizens’ property rights shall be treated?

    2. By which of the following shall “just compensation” be interpreted?:

    a. The lowest appraisal available
    b. No less than the municipal tax assessment
    c. Must (or must not) include considerations for sweat equity, loss or deprivation of use, or detrimental effect on remaining buildings/acreage outside of that condemned by imminent domain?

    3. Does a “Certificate of public good” issued by a fistful of bureaucrats who are not accountable to anyone (certainly not by popular election), amount to “due process”?

    4. Does the abominable (and well documented) treatment of Vermont citizens and journalists by Vermont Gas minions in any way void or invalidate said certificate? How can “public good” be served, if selected parts of said “public” are being abused?

    5. Is “due process” properly executed when a foreign entity (Gaz-Metro) bullies American Citizens?

    6. Who are Vermont state regulators and officials serving? Vermont citizens, or foreigners?

  11. Wayne Andrews :

    Ms. Smith. I think you will find in many states the surveyor has a right to enter lands and it is not trespass. The Vermont ancient road bill comes to mind right this moment along with Title 13 section 3834.

    The gas company issue aside do you really think an owner can erroneously claim, say, 3/4 of a town and not be able to allow the oppositions surveyor on the parcel?

    The reasoning behind these laws is the fact that there is much evidence on an abutter’s property that guides the surveyor in his determination of parcel lines.
    I remember one local issue where a surveyor made a mistake and his clients line ended up being 500 feet off. The miscue was noticed because a more seasoned surveyor determined the old foundation alignments did not add up being the homestead on one parcel but yet the stonewalls for pigs and cattle and barways were on another parcel. In conclusion all foundations and walls had to be on the same parcel in those days and the first survey was deemed unfit.

    BYW, Ms Smith your issues are not always about you point of view and the rubes that follow your spirit. Some of these laws go back quite a ways. if I am wrong try wasting more of these folks dollars by taking the gas company the court. Maybe you should foot their bill.

    • Annette Smith :

      I’m guessing nobody is threatening your property with a natural gas transmission line.

      See Maren’s comment above which I will re-post here.

      Maren Vasatka
      July 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Wayne, that is absolutely not correct. There is no provision for appraisers to be allowed legal access to anyone’s property. It is customary for them to contact the homeowner and ask for permission to enter the property. If they are not given it they take photos from the road and prepare their reports off public information at the town clerks office. Absolutely NO right for them to enter without permission.

  12. Jaime Ciffo :

    The idea that VGS is trying to reach an “amicable agreement” is preposterous. They just assumed from the beginning that everyone would be a pushover for pennies. There must have been some unofficial assurances made during the CPG process. After all, the PSB is tasked to decide what you should get for your land in the condemnation proceedings. What real estate and property expertise are they drawing their conclusions from? VGS has dispatched their privately contracted property assessors to draw up assessment values that reflect the financial needs of VGS. The assessments will be used in the proceedings against the landowners. To rebut those assessments, landowners would have to hire their own assessors for thousands of dollars which most of them cannot afford. Of course, they could represent themselves in the proceedings, but then they aren’t taken seriously because they don’t have real estate market expertise — JUST LIKE THE PSB. There is no impartiality nor independent assessment testimony on the land values. Whoever has the most money wins.

  13. Wayne Andrews :

    Maren comment is moot for it compares appraisers to surveyors. However she is right that it is customary to contact the owner about the visit. If the gas company did not do this means they might be short of merit but not necessarily committing an illegal act.
    Although I still support the concept of a fair deal for all the tactics used by these landowners are just as horrible as the appearances of the gas company.

  14. Wayne Andrews :

    My question for the outrages landowners. Is your parcels surveyed? Not a town tax map but surveyed by a licensed Vermont surveyor.

    • Kathy Nelson :

      Just curious. Is Wayne making repetitive comments out of willful ignorance or does it have something to do with seeing his name in print? I’ll be glad to help. IT IS NOT LEGAL FOR A SURVEYOR TO TRESPASS. You know I had to shout, for some people it’s necessary.

  15. Hattie Nestel :

    I sure hope homeowners assert their absolute rights to say no to surveys, about 200 towns in New York have zoned out surveys and pipelines. Here in mass, we are also resisting aipelune. Lots of Lawnsigns, public info meetings and are very well supported by our state legislators. I am very hopeful we will win. Our local media has been very helpful on this.
    See today’s front page article by richie Davis in greenfield recorder.
    Hattie

  16. Wayne Andrews :

    Kathy and Annette: If it is illegal for surveyors to trespass then bring an action in court for damages and/or contact the police.
    Your hot air comments are about as popular as a pin cushion at a balloon fest.

    • Kathy Nelson :

      Wayne, how much of this pipeline will be running through your property?
      I am reminded of the Tetrault family in Lowell who have been paid to promote the GMP wind disaster up there. The corporate marauders always seem to find one or two to be their propaganda pushers. It certainly must pay well, Wayne.

  17. Annette Smith :

    Some landowners along the pipeline route have served the gas company and its contractors with Notices Against Trespass. Yes, that gives them the right to have the trespassers (surveyors) arrested. But some of these properties are large, and the surveying is not being done by a knock on the door first, the trespassers are finding their ways onto people’s properties in less than obvious ways. Turns the landowners into full time cops of their own properties. Vermont landowners tend to be more polite than the corporations trying to use their land. And the police, as we saw on the Lowell mountain, can be paid to work for the corporation against the landowners.

  18. Wayne Andrews :

    I seriously doubt the last comment is 100% true. Company vehicles can be seen from afar and landowners can take turns watching. Unless someone has a large road frontage the area where the gas company wishes to lay their pipe cannot be a secret.
    Again I ask if these landowners have their land surveyed to begin with?

    • Jeff Noordsy :

      I have got to give you credit Wayne. Most folks, when presented with the fact that their publicly held opinion is factually incorrect would quietly back away from the keyboard. But you, like Sisyphus, keep pushing that boulder up the Hill.

      I am still unsure as to the point you are trying to make but it should be pointed out that the “surveying” done by the gas company is not necessarily the same as a survey done by a homeowner. A homeowner’s survey would show boundary lines, location of well and septic et al. The work done by the gas company’s subcontractors involves the digging of test pits and other processes not included in a traditional survey. They already know where the boundary lines are and aren’t – it’s what’s on and under the ground that matters to them.

      As to the route being a “secret” there’s more truth to that than you might imagine. It has been documented by ANR that the route changes “daily” and the gas company itself allows that they are willing/able and desirous to make route changes “on the fly.”

      As far as watching your own land, some of these landowners are too busy brushing up on the 248 process to even look out the window. It is not the job of a homeowner to constantly be on the lookout for trespassers. It should also be noted that some of the illegal activity has occurred while homeowners are away and though this thought will blow your mind ….. most of the landowners have JOBS they need to attend to.

      You are welcome to believe that this project is in the public good. I disagree but there are some (arguably) defensible points working in your favor. What I refuse to understand however, is how ANYONE (unless you are an employee or a relation to someone employed by the gas company) cannot see that this company is clearly not up to the task at hand. Between the abominable treatment of landowners, the constant flow of deceit, the hiring of sex offenders and meth heads and now, the admission that initial cost estimates of the project were off by 40%, these folks have followed each error and miscalculation with another.

      NOBODY (even those who support the project) should condone this behavior and for you to continually charge Jane, Maren, Annette and others as being the source of the “problem” is completely missing the point. The problem begins and ends with the gas company. They are overmatched by the size and scale of this project. The landowners are simply doing what you, I or anyone else would do – protecting their hard earned private property.

      These are not professional protesters, they are reluctant activists. They have exercised every reasonable option to be heard and the right people have not been listening. Perhaps this knit-in and the national attention it received will begin to open some eyes.

      Let’s hear it for the Pipeline Five!

  19. Wayne Andrews :

    Jeff: Your comments only solidify most of my points.
    There is no way these owners do not have the ability to either:
    1) purchase game camera’s at $85/pop
    2) hear the noise associated with your alleged trespassers and take notice
    3) periodically walk their parcel during known gas company work hours.
    4) contact other town folk to assist them in patrol
    5) have the local general store clerk or gas station attendant call them when the gas company or its reps are in the area.
    6) have local police be on the lookout
    Your comments are non practical when you state the landowners appear to never see these surveyors but yet somehow find out alleged damages created by the personell. If it is as common as you state the police should be able to step in asap.
    Trespasser are not the prohibition bootleggers with their stills located in parts unknown nor the evasive bigfoot.

  20. Jane Palmer :

    I shudder to imagine living in Wayne’s world….

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      you do live in that world, it is the world of protect and monitor your own property, don’t lobby the government to do it for you at someone else’s expense. I don’t want to live in the world of whiny people without guts. I am sure the gas folks are not armed except maybe with lawyers. nothing to fear by walking your property lines, unless you are incapable of protecting yourself, in which case, you need to buy a drone, like our government does. Private drones, that is the techy green folks solution, along with lawyers and accountants to figure out liability and tax breaks.

      • Jane Palmer :

        Mr Lorenzini,
        If you have followed the gas pipeline story, you would know that my husband and I participated in the 248 process on Phase 1 which is the only legal avenue to have any say in the matter. I guess you think that doesn’t take guts. Last week I went to the VGS/Gaz Metro HQ to talk to them and to get them to agree to our demands as landowners. They would not even talk to us and tried to evict us immediately. That is not the way we treated them when they announced they were going to put a pipeline through the middle of our farm. We invited them to our home and tried to reason with them. Several times. As I said, we participated in the 248 process. VGS/Gaz Metro has NOT negotiated in good faith with us. In fact they have ignored us, bullied us, changed figures pertinent to our negotiations and generally been slimy reptiles to deal with. Our “knit in” was designed to highlight that fact to the rest of the state and to our elected officials. I think it showcased their methods perfectly.
        The trouble with yours and Wayne’s plan to protect our land is that their lawyers will find a legal way to take our property rights away from us even if we arm ourselves to the teeth. We have been told we cannot prevent this from happening. We stand up and say that we will not agree to this and if you would not do the same if you were in this situation, then you are the one without guts.

      • Jane Palmer :

        Mr Lorenzini,
        If you have followed the gas pipeline story, you would know that my husband and I participated in the 248 process on Phase 1 which is the only legal avenue to have any say in the matter. I guess you think that doesn’t take guts. Last week I went to the VGS/Gaz Metro HQ to talk to them and to get them to agree to our demands as landowners. They would not even talk to us and tried to evict us immediately. That is not the way we treated them when they announced they were going to put a pipeline through the middle of our farm. We invited them to our home and tried to reason with them. Several times. As I said, we participated in the 248 process. VGS/Gaz Metro has NOT negotiated in good faith with us. In fact they have ignored us, bullied us, changed figures pertinent to our negotiations and generally been slimy reptiles to deal with. Our “knit in” was designed to highlight that fact to the rest of the state and to our elected officials. I think it showcased their methods perfectly.
        The trouble with yours and Wayne’s plan to protect our land is that their lawyers will find a legal way to take our property rights away even if we arm ourselves to the teeth. We have been told we cannot prevent this from happening. We stand up and say that we will not agree to this and if you would not do the same if you were in this situation, then you are the one without guts.

  21. Wayne Andrews :

    Waynes world is very practical full of common sense. If matters are as bad as the 5 amigo’s would trumpet some attorney would have done some pro-bono action for remedy.
    Whats more appauling is how some of these keyboard experts keep upsetting landowners within the scope of some sort of utility project.
    same issue at the Hoosac ridge where a handful are upsetting a local making them sick. The local needs to stop listening to NIMBY cry stories and get about their lives.

  22. Raph Worrick :

    Don’t feed the troll.

  23. Wayne Andrews :

    Mr. Lorenzini you have put into words more eloquently my thoughts. These 5 along with a couple of sideline quarterbacks wants everyone to jump on their bandwagon to fight for their cause.
    But its not the 5’s cause the sideline quarterbacks are backing. They are using these individuals hardship to further lobby and exploit their own selfish agenda. their main theme is big corporate America is beating up on the little guys and executing the environment as they go.
    These are the same activists that claim hard rain will wash out all the valleys when windmills are built but yet the land is full of stonewalls were civil war era farmers clear cut the parcel for field. They claim bats and birds will be killed by the thousands but yet no evidence of it at the site. Their answer to that is the lumbering blades redirect the birds and they die somewhere else. What a bunch of gibberist! When the dust settles from this issue I hope the “5” will realize they have used manipulated by a couple of serve servers.

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