Vermont Gas seeks waiver to begin construction staging for pipeline

Vermont Gas Systems has asked state regulators for permission to begin preparing for the construction of its Addison County pipeline extension before it secures a federal wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This is the final permit needed by Vermont Gas Systems, which is a subsidiary of Gaz Metro with a Vermont headquarters in South Burlington, before it begins construction of the 41-mile pipeline extension from Chittenden County to Middlebury. The pipeline will temporarily impact about 23 acres of wetlands, the largest area of Vermont wetlands ever reviewed by the Corps.

The company is required to obtain all necessary permits before beginning construction or site preparation as a condition of its certificate of public good granted last December.

Vermont Gas had planned to begin construction this month, and in its filing to the Vermont Public Service Board last week seeking a waiver, it said the permit delay could affect the cost and schedule of the project. The company wants to begin deliveries to construction staging areas in Williston and New Haven, and had planned to begin the work May 1.

During construction, the wetlands will be disturbed for a trench to bury the pipeline and construction mats to support heavy machinery.

When the construction is complete, the trenches will be filled and the mats will be removed, returning the wetland to normal in about a year, state and federal officials said.

About two acres of forested wetlands will be cleared, the Corps said.

“It should operate the same,” said Michael Adams, permit project manager for the Corps, about the wetlands when the construction is complete. “The function and values should return.”

Wetlands provide a habitat for a wide range of wildlife. They also clean and hold water, and control runoff erosion.

A gas mainline will be placed under the Winooski River in Essex Junction and in Williston and under Otter Creek in Vergennes and Middlebury. The company will use horizontal directional drilling to trench up to 25 feet beneath these streambeds.

To compensate for unavoidable impacts, Vermont Gas will make payments to the Ducks Unlimited Vermont in-lieu fee program, an off-site mitigation program headed by a private wetlands conservation organization, Ducks Unlimited.

The company will purchase 119,203 square feet of mitigation credits for unavoidable impacts, according to the Agency of Natural Resources.

A Vermont Gas spokesperson was not available for comment before this story was published on Tuesday.

In a filing to the Public Service Board, Kimberly Hayden, an attorney with Downs Rachlin Martin who is representing Vermont Gas, said the Agency of Natural Resources, the Agency of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Public Service support the waiver request.

“VGS is authorized to represent to the Board that it has conferred with ANR, TRANS, ACOE, and the Department of Public Service, and all four agencies have no objection to this limited waiver request,” Hayden wrote.

Adams of the Army Corps of Engineers said the company would be beginning construction at its own risk.

“Our decision hasn’t been made on their application,” he said. “And they could be doing work that is contrary to our final decision.”

He did not say when the application review is expected to be complete. The permit is required under the federal Clean Water Act.

The Agency of Natural Resources approved the company’s state wetlands permit this month. The agency reviewed 3.7 acres of wetlands impact and found there to be only temporary impacts resulting from trenching the line. Where there will be unavoidable impacts, the state is requiring the company to drill under the wetlands, according to the agency.

Kim Greenwood, water program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the project’s cumulative impacts on wetlands could be harmful despite the agency’s approval.

“There isn’t a single program at the agency that addresses cumulative impacts,” she said. “We don’t have a good sense of how this is going to play out. We know that it is going to be bad.”

Pipeline opponents are asking state regulators to deny the company’s request to begin construction before obtaining the federal permit.

“This is just one more example of Vermont Gas seeking an end-run around the public process,” said Jane Palmer, a Monkton resident affected by the pipeline, in a statement to the anti-pipeline direct action group Rising Tide Vermont.

“A Board order is a Board order – In light of the fact that VGS has been treating homeowners so poorly the Board should reject this proposal. If the PSB lets Vermont Gas get away with this, what other restrictions will Vermont Gas attempt to whittle away? What kind of protection will landowners have from the CPG if VGS can just ask for changes when they want them? This act makes us feel even more vulnerable than we were before … if that is possible,” she said.

Vermont Gas has applied for a state permit to construct the second phase of its pipeline extension from Middlebury to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, New York. The company plans to eventually bring gas to Rutland.

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John Herrick

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  • Annette Smith

    Get ready for the Rubber Stamp Board to approve VGS’s request.

    Purchase “mitigation credits?” An oxymoron.

  • Dave Bellini

    How about building a pipeline to central Vermont parallel to interstate 89……….

  • Greg Mikkelson

    Calling Vermont Gas a “South Burlington natural gas utility” is *extremely* misleading, since it is 100% owned by Gaz Metro of Montreal, and the pipeline in question would bring gas fracked in Alberta – fracking being a process Vermont has banned within its own borders – to the state.

    • Thanks, Greg. You are right that Vermont Gas is a subsidiary of Gaz Metro, with a Vermont office in South Burlington. I have corrected the reference.

  • Theo Talcott

    The state government have been like a bunch of loser frat boys looking the other way during a rape scene. Vermont Gas is trying to steal homeowner’s safety, property value and health. There is no way to do this project anywhere near safely. A pipeline pressurized to 1400 pounds per square inch will leak 3 percent into wetlands due to methane migration thru the holes in the pipe. The only way this project will be permitted is if government officials look the other way, ignore the facts and the public good and take Gas Metro’s money on the sly. Shame on Shumlin for speaking so beautifully about fighting Climate Change and then shafting Vermont with his pipeline.

    • I cannot say it better than this, Theo. Hearing tunneling under wetlands, I am now concerned at the quality of my soils in my swamp lot which is less than a mile from this proposed pipeline. Anne Galloway: while you are making corrections, you should stop saying “Vermont gas will…” Because, there are a small group of tax strapped, disabled and elderly property owners in Monkton, Vermont and the path of proposed destruction who say, “It won’t be”.

  • Stephanie Kaplan

    Allowing construction to begin before all permits are obtained is a slippery slope that undermines the integrity of the permit processes. Sure, it always costs companies to have to get permits and wait for them, but there’s a reason that permits are required and that would be completely eviscerated if permit applicants could just go ahead and build before obtaining the necessary permits. It’s especially pernicious when certain companies are given permission to do so while others bear the costs of complying with the law. Of course that’s to be expected in this era of crony capitalism that pervades Vermont these days, with Shumlin’s oh so cozy relationship with Gaz Metro (Vermont Gas and Green Mountain Power). Why don’t we end the charade and just eliminate any permit requirements for Gaz Metro to expedite the bringing of fracked gas to Vermont along with their destruction of our mountain ecosystems? That would save the opponents from spending thousands of dollars uselessly trying to stop this madness.

  • Randy Martin

    So, how much will Gaz Metro pay Ducks Unlimited? Nobody seems to know. How will Ducks Unlimited spend the money? Good chance none of it will be spent in Vermont, given DU is a national organization.
    If us, as ordinary citizens requested a waiver for a septic permit, building permit, etc, you know what the answer would be. A big fat NO! There is no way Gaz Metro should receive this waiver.

  • Kim Fried Newark, Vermont

    The parallels here with industrial wind on ridgelines are very obvious, PSB, ANR loving mitigation, foreign corporations disguised as local Vermont companies, ignoring the environment, ignoring citizen health…………. yep the rubber stamp is inked and ready. Hundreds and hundreds of citizens (Vermonters) are living this nightmere

  • Kim Fried Newark, Vermont

    nightmare right now in the Northeast Kingdom. Time for the whole state to stop this insanity.

  • Henry Harris

    There’s no waiving protection for the public. We’re going to have to get out on the right of way and actually stop them from breaking the law and endangering our economy and climate, whatever this strawman board might say. See you on the front line.

  • Jane Palmer

    Good reporting, John. Just one correction though, in this paragraph: “This is just one more example of Vermont Gas seeking an end-run around the public process,” said Jane Palmer, a Monkton resident affected by the pipeline, in a statement with the anti-pipeline direct action group Rising Tide Vermont.
    I made that statement TO Rising Tide Vermont, not WITH. Minor detail.

    I would also like to add that in the the ANR permits, the percentage of a species that will be affected by the construction is to be limited to 20%. Less than that, they say, the species will recover. So that means that if a particular species of wildlife or plant life is killed, and the cumulative number only reaches 20%, then that is considered Okey Dokey with our “protection agencies.” I am wondering how long it will be before our “protection agencies” applies that quota to human beings. I also wonder who will be out there in the field counting casualties.

  • Melanie Peyser

    VGS’ waiver request is not just asking the PSB to waive one little permit requirement. It is questioning the PSB’s interpretation of the law from the December 23, 2013 order issuing the CPG. At that time, the PSB said essentially that regardless of the practicalities, VGS must receive and file all of the 4 ANR and 1 Army Corps of Engineers permits for the entire project before beginning construction as a legal necessity of the Certificate of Public Good. Why, you may ask, is this a legal requirement? The reason is that VGS made the choice not to prove in its filing and follow up testimony that the project fully met the standards of Section 248. Instead it said that it would comply with the 5 permits and that compliance with the permits would guarantee that the 248 criteria were met. The PSB ruled in December 2013 that until the PSB sees those permits and offers the opportunity to the other parties to comment and/or request further proceedings, VGS will not have met its burden of proof. For that reason alone, VGS’ waiver request should be denied … unless either the law or something else has changed since December. VGS doesn’t suggest that anything has changed to support any adjustment to the PSB’s interpretation of the law. VGS already made its cost and delay argument during the original proceedings, and the PSB rejected them. VGS took the risk that it wouldn’t get all of the permits and now needs to live with the consequences of that choice. I have great confidence that the PSB will stand by its original decision and protect the rights of all parties in this matter because this is a matter of law – not just a practical matter that can be solved by getting construction started on time.

  • Rosemary Kean

    As Dave Bellini notes, a pipeline running along interstate 89 won’t happen because it would not look good for tourists and Vermont’s image. Having Vermonters and property owners arrested for peaceful civil disobedience will elevate the struggle against international corporate power. Co-operation with fracking may be one of the key moral issues of our time.