Pipeline opponents warn of water contamination

Pipeline opponents rallied outside the Public Service Board offices in Montpelier on Monday to urge state regulators to delay the construction of the pipeline extension until water contamination issues are addressed. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Pipeline opponents rallied outside the Public Service Board offices in Montpelier on Monday to urge state regulators to delay the construction of the pipeline extension until water contamination issues are addressed. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline extension through Addison County want to see the project put on hold until concerns over water contamination are addressed.

The environmental group Rising Tide Vermont rallied outside the Public Service Board offices in Montpelier on Monday to pressure state regulators to delay the construction of the pipeline extension until these concerns are considered.

Jonathan Shapiro, an organizer with Rising Tide, said the group is asking for the state “to suspend pipeline construction until there can be adequate soil testing along the proposed route.”

The wood preservative used to treat utility poles, pentachlorophenol (PCP), has already appeared in one Monkton resident’s water well. The state’s transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), notified the residents and is replacing the well.

But pipeline opponents say more of this “hazardous” chemical is lodged in the soil along the transmission line corridor where about 20 miles of the pipeline is to be buried. By trenching the pipeline here, Rising Tide and several landowners say the chemical will be released into water supplies.

Vermont Gas plans to begin construction of its 41-mile pipeline extension this month. The company is waiting for two permits before it begins construction.

Company spokesman Steve Wark said the issue was not addressed in the state permit it received last year to begin the project.

“Of course regulators will look at this and we will as well,” Wark said. “We want to make sure that we are being a good neighbor.”

He said the company is trenching its pipeline along the edges of VELCO’s right-of-way. He said the company would pay for any water quality damages resulting from the construction of the pipeline.

Monkton resident Selina Peyser, a landowner along the proposed route, submitted a letter to the state last month requesting that it investigate the issue of water contamination. She said she has not received a response.

“Are we going to chance getting ill?” said Peyser, a cancer survivor. “I would just like to get at least some precautionary response from them.”

Peyser went to the Public Service Board’s offices on Monday to speak in person about the issue. A representative from the board said the health department could address her concerns.

“They ducked,” she said. “That’s why I’m sending this letter to the public health department.”

Rising Tide said the state continues to ignore the issue.

“Nobody is actually addressing their concerns,” Shapiro said. “They are choosing not to exercise this power even though they know this is an issue.”

PCP is often used to treat utility poles. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found the chemical can cause fevers, difficulty breathing, and liver and other organ damage. The Environmental Protection Agency found that PCP is a “probable” cancer-causing agent.

VELCO vice president Kerrick Johnson said the company has tested all the groundwater supplies that intersect with existing infrastructure to ensure they are not contaminated as part of the company’s maintenance work within the corridor.

Rising Tide has been opposing the pipeline because Vermont Gas sources some of their gas from the process of fracking, which they say causes environmental destruction and emits the potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas methane.

“We have this responsibility to communities in Alberta, whose land and communities are being destroyed by fracking infrastructure, homeowners and farmers in Addison County, whose land is being threatened by eminent domain and whose groundwater is being threatened by PCPs,” Shapiro said.

“We have a responsibility for all of them to make sure this pipeline does not go forward,” Shapiro said.

He also said the Shumlin administration’s support for the pipeline is hypocritical because the state has banned the process of fracking.

Vermont Gas estimates that natural gas emits 23 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. The company’s report does not state how much of its gas comes from fracking.

The company hired the consulting firm ICF International to conduct the analysis. The firm has previously worked for TransCanada, the prospective builder of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Vermont Gas is waiting for permits from Agency of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it begins construction.

Correction: This story was edited at 8:36 on June 10 to clarify an unclear quote from Jonathan Shapiro.

John Herrick

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  • I applaud my fellow opponents of this proposed pipeline. What exactly is “The edge of the Velco right of way?” Sounds like Private property to me. Even the Velco Right of way (don’t be fooled by name-most Vt utilities owned by Canadians now) is for electricity. Not high pressure gas lines. Our water is precious and once spoiled, cannot be restored with money. Say No to the Pipeline. Monkton, Vermont did.

    • Jason Farrell

      Monkton clearly did not “Say No to the Pipeline”. Your comment on the story I link below from a year ago highlighting that “The Monkton Select board has adopted a Memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Vermont Gas for the construction of a natural gas transmission line in the Town of Monkton” shows that you fail to admit Monkton did not, in fact, say no to the pipeline.


      • Jane Palmer

        There was an article voted on at town meeting this year in Monkton that read, “Shall the voters of Monkton denounce the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline?” And it was almost unanimously approved. So, yes, Monkton did, in fact, say NO to the pipeline.

  • Jane Palmer

    Vermont Gas spokesperson, Steve Wark says, “Of course regulators will look at this and we will as well, We want to make sure that we are being a good neighbor.” Well, they already blew that one.

    Wark said the company is trenching its pipeline along the edges of VELCO’s right-of-way. He said the company would pay for any water quality damages resulting from the construction of the pipeline.

    Does anyone else see the problem with this attitude? Water is one of our most precious resources…even Peter Shumlin has said we have to protect our water as one of the reasons he signed the bill against fracking in this state. So..Mr Wark thinks money will fix tainted water? I would rather my spring stays pure in the first place. Why is everyone’s attitude that they will “fix” a problem after it occurs, instead of averting it in the first place?

  • Wayne Andrews

    If I was Vt Gas I would request an independent company test the landowners well. It would not be beyond the scope of these fanatics to sabatoge their own well for their cause.
    Once tested and 100% proven then VELCO should make do on any damage it has caused by drilling another well at full VELCO expense.

    • Jane Palmer

      As a matter of fact, Wayne, the lab where VELCO had the water tested is partly owned by one of the engineers from VHB, the engineering firm VGS has on board to help them obtain their environmental permits. And the land that the tainted well is on is owned by Vermont Gas.
      Thankfully, the homeowner had a base line water test done before the construction was started and it was clean. So, yes, it has been 100% proven that VELCO poles are to blame.

      Your suggestion that the homeowner would poison their own well to prove a point indicates how your own mind works more than anything.

      Keep those comments coming, Wayne..it is important for others to see the type of person who supports this pipeline.

  • Maren Vasatka

    VELCO vice president Kerrick Johnson said the company has tested all the groundwater supplies that intersect with existing infrastructure to ensure they are not contaminated as part of the company’s maintenance work within the corridor.

    Oh Mr Johnson you must have accidentally missed a bunch of properties because no one tested our drinking water. Can you please disclose where testing was done. Oh of course that would be confidential information.

    At the end of my rope with concerns being ignored and each department passing the buck to another department or explaining they only have limited authority. There is something seriously wrong with the system when we can’t protect our citizens drinking water.

    Wake up Vermont!!!

  • Mary Martin

    Aside from saving money on heating bills, can anyone tell me why this proposed pipeline is still going forward?
    We know there are sustainable and better alternatives for green house gas reductions and cost savings.
    Velco is replacing “the well”. What about the PCPs that are leaching into our ground water? Will they replace Vermont’s water supply too? Or should we wait and sue them later for clean up costs?
    This issue with the Velco poles is similar to the toxic sludge bed on the bottom of Lake Champlain that International Paper caused. There is no way to clean it up with out making things worse. Don’t disturb it and don’t do it again.
    Rich, spoiled brats think they can do whatever they want and just buy their way out of it.
    Let’s hold them accountable now, not later when more damage is done.

  • Maren Vasatka

    Might I remind Mr Wark that the after construction testing in the MOU’s and those in the easement agreements do not include testing for PCP’s. So easy to say you’ll take care of it but why won’t you put that in writing?

  • Wayne Andrews

    Nice try Ms. Palmer but for any person to chain themselves to a fixture near headquarters could very easily take the next level step by polluting their own water supply or alter a water test much in the way you think the gas company does.
    Why is it iron clad that the so called contaminate came from Velco poles and not some other source? Are there sample test pits drilled between the distance of the polluted well and the alleged pole?
    It seems like an easy fix to drill a new well with established parameters in favor of the home owner. Its done every day.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      So you are saying the woman who chained herself to the door is the homeowner whose well was poisoned? Really? Some advice from a simple man (me) – when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

      Wayne, I understand you fear/hate your perception of the “professional” protester but really, you question BIG government on any and all other levels but now you’re satisfied with their version of the story? I just don’t get it.

      VT Gas is not a VT company. They are the Canadians you railed against in another comment. And they lie. Repeatedly. Why? Because it’s all about the money. You and others claim that this project is all about helping low income Vermonters. BULL. It’s about lining the pockets of folks who will never step foot in this state, nor will they give anything back to this state. The $$$$ from Phase Two will not help Vermonters, nor will it help our friends on the other side of the lake. It’s a cash grab for the parent company(s) and with a payback period of three years or less, they don’t care what happens to ANY of us outside of that time frame.

      And, lest you have been sleeping, there is a plan in place to bring hydro-power from Quebec thru the lake with the justification that…… drum roll please……… NATURAL GAS IS BEING SOLD AT AN ARTIFICIALLY LOW PRICE THAT IS UNSUSTAINABLE.

      Please, take a moment to step away from your Glenn Beck handbook and THINK. Is this methane pipe REALLY good for Vermonters?

  • Wayne Andrews

    Twisted minds for the cause will dream up anything and implement also anything. Its doesnt have to be the lady chained its the cause they are after at any cost.
    Lets not drift away from the line being Canada owned you NIMBY”s would say the same thing if it was one of those nasty “large’ corporations in Vermont.
    Most of you NIMBY’s if stranded on a desert island with your twisted beliefs would end up turning on each other to survive. if you dont think I am right try turning off your power for 2 months and not touch you trust fund

    • Kathy Nelson

      Wayne, you are a NIMBY. You don’t want other Vermonters in your back yard or in your neighborhood. Maybe you would be happier somewhere else.

    • David Dempsey

      I have no opinion on the pipeline itself. But Vermont has banned fracking for natural gas, and this pipeline will transport fracked gas from Canada through Vermont. I think that banning fracking but letting fracked gas come into the state makes Vermont a NIMBY.

    • Melanie Peyer


      I actually have lived in places where I had no reliable power or potable water for several years. It is terrible. Coming home to visit my parents in Vermont means drinking the wonderful, fresh water from their well. My Dad passed away several years ago, and my Mom is now 79. They invested their live and their hard-earned money in the home where my Mom would like to live out her life and continue to drink that fresh water from her well. I don’t think that what you meant to say was that it was twisted to want that over giving up drinking water and having to have it brought it in on a truck and stored in barrels in her basement or garden as has happened after similar contamination accidents around the U.S. I feel confident that you don’t think that my Mom should have to live without fresh water so that others can have lower heating bills. I also feel confident that you don’t think it’s twisted not to end up with your largest asset – your home – being worthless because no one will by a place that doesn’t have potable water. My Mom spent her childhood living through two wars. She was burned in a gas explosion in her apartment as a young adult. She’s not a fanatic. She knows hardship. She came to Vermont because of its natural beauty and the peacefulness of the home my parents worked hard to have. She has always and continues to give back to the community. I think that we both know that it’s not selfish or twisted to want to have potable water or to feel safe when you go to sleep at night or to know that if you do have to sell your home in retirement that you will be able to do so without suffering major losses. I think all of those things are what make Vermont and the U.S. unique and great. Don’t you agree?

  • Wayne Andrews

    I am pro electric generation, gas lines, highways and other infrastructure Kathy. And that means those items above feed and assist our State to grow and yes help other Vermonters with jobs, ease of travel, appliances and cheap heat.
    Quite the opposite as your assertion, you and your cronies are self serving isolationists and care not about the general public good but your own selfish good.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Equating this proposed gas line or the ill-conceived Wind Projects to the highway system is a specious argument at best. The highway system benefits ALL Vermonters – the aforementioned projects? Not so much.

  • walter moses

    Unfortunately my farm has an old (1946) right of way across 2/3 the length of my property for power lines. Poles were replaced just prior to the CVPS sale to GMP.
    Those new poles reeked of preservative and killed some of our sheep that grazed at the base of them. CVPS replaced the poles and paid for the sheep after being threatened with a law suit. I will bet that ole Wayne Andrews will think that this is a travesty against CVPS. Wayne, people like you make me sick. Oh, I should add that my neighbors water supply was contaminated by the same poles. By the way, CVPS linemen told us that the poles were over treated and should never have gone in the ground. Wayne, how about a nice lamb chop?

  • Wayne Andrews

    My point is not to soften anyone’s hardships but those hardships should not be used to stop any project that helps the general public.
    Here in these posts as others your ilk is trying to used a couple of incidents as a jake break to stop all matters from moving. Not the thing to do.
    Those wells, sheep and other situations where there is damage needs to be remedied by the company to the satisfaction of the land owner.
    As in all new transformations there are unknowns and we as a people need to see to it the damage is remedied and in the future mitigated. We cannot stop progress due to a handful of alleged miscues or even proven miscues. That is what our court system and sadly our insurance system is about. I for one do not need my future living to be controlled every time a handful cry wolf.

  • walter moses

    Wayne, I didn’t cry wolf. I have never been to a protest, but I’ll be damned if I will let the CVPS or GMP bullies push me around and ruin what I have put a lifetime of work in. I know that Wark, Powell and Schnure are paid to push the corporate line and we have a PSB that are nothing but shills, toadying to the governor who is in bed with all of the above. If you don’t know this you need to get out more.

  • Page Guertin

    Has anyone asked why power companies are still allowed to use PCP if its toxicity is so well known?

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