Commentary

Bill Marks: Laying blame for pipeline delays

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bill Marks, a member and former chair of the Hinesburg Conservation Commission member since 1990.

Beth Parent, spokesperson for Vermont Gas, recently stated in an interview with The Citizen reporter Lauren Milideo that “If it weren’t for this small group (of individuals wishing to stop the project), this project would be in service and residents in Addison County would be able to choose natural gas this heating season.”

I am one of those individuals, and I know, from having been involved in trying to protect Geprags Park from the very beginning (I am both the lead plaintiff for this group and the longest-serving member of the Hinesburg Conservation Commission, which has legal oversight and management responsibilities for the park), that this statement is patently false.

From the moment we, the Conservation Commission, were informed of Vermont Gas’ plans to run a pipeline through Geprags Park (early December 2013), we objected to the location of the proposed easement. Instead of seeking us out then to discuss our objections and the possibility of moving the pipeline to a less environmentally sensitive area within the park, VGS eventually entered into a secret agreement with the town of Hinesburg, through its attorney, in August of 2015, to acquire this easement for a paltry sum of money and with few environmental safeguards.

Had VGS initially entered into an open and proper agreement with the town, the rest may never have happened.

 

I say this agreement was “secret” because a majority of the town’s selectboard (at least three of its five members) did not even know there was a “vote” to convey this interest in the town’s park. Furthermore, this alleged vote (if it had ever happened — as claimed by the chair of the board) would have been done illegally in executive session. In other words, there was no public record of even the appearance of a legitimate conveyance of the town’s property.

Nevertheless, despite having a large legal team looking out for its interests, VGS never made the most rudimentary and obvious inquiry into the facts and law (and here I’m giving VGS the benefit of the doubt) to determine if the written agreement it entered into with the town was valid and enforceable under the most basic municipal law principles in the state of Vermont. Instead, VGS simply ran with it to the Public Service Board for approval. Fortunately, some residents of Hinesburg were there to object and stop this illegal transaction from happening. Had VGS initially entered into an open and proper agreement with the town, the rest may never have happened.

As it turned out, the surreptitious tactics of certain town officials and VGS angered me, to say the least. Because of my unique position on the Conservation Commission and involvement with Geprags Park, the PSB recognized the importance of my perspective in this controversy and granted me, and several other Hinesburg residents, party status. My position has remained the same thoughout — that is, I am not here to block the pipeline, but simply to protect the interests of Geprags Park to the extent feasible.

Until it became too late to change course, VGS failed to treat the Conservation Commission seriously. Our demands for environmental safeguards have essentially not changed over the last two years. Had VGS dealt with our demands then, they would probably have a working pipeline now. Instead, VGS continued to take the path of least resistance and exclude the Conservation Commission from any direct negotiations.

We are not to blame for VGS’ incompetence and short-sightedness. While I had no strong opinions about this gas pipeline before becoming involved in this controversy, I have since seen, heard and read enough to realize that no one at VGS or in state government is adequately looking out for our welfare and the welfare of our environment.

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  • Barbie Alsop

    When the PSB determines that a very expensive pipeline is the answer when 3,000 new customers are the potential end result, someone is not using the term “in the public good” in good faith. This pipeline is nothing more than VGS’s effort to expand its customer base to a new community. It wants to take the place of other Vermont companies in providing fuel in Addison county. Any claim of “public good” is actually VGS’s good, because 3,000 potential new customers, stolen from other companies, does not suggest “public good” to me.

    VGS claims that the gas will be less expensive for those new customers, but not at the increasing cost of this trainwreck of a pipeline. One wetlands has already been destroyed by the contractor, Michael’s, and I doubt Geprags will survive with much more integrity.

  • Janice D Stearns

    Thank you for your further enlightenment on the subject of Geprags Park. It seems Vermont Gas GAZ METRO is in cahoots with the “Public Service” Board. I am ashamed of their behavior. They are supposed to be the watchdog for us, not the gas company. It’s really reprehensible in the Brave Little State of Vermont to have such a board as this one. Chris Recchia must be pulling for a job in the private sector after this…the only explanation I can come up with. They’ve all drunk the kool aid served up by VT GAS! This is FRACKED gas, not natural. It’s ruining the planet just to get it out of the ground. I don’t want my energy that way! And the behavior of the company and its blatant disregard for landowners all through this process is shameful!

  • Nancy Bake

    Having been involved in the effort to “Protect Geprags Park” from the very beginning, I can verify that Bill Mark’s comments are spot on. I believe, he actually could have added many, many, many more verifiable and infuriating facts. They would have added more weight to the statement that we are sorely being let down by our local and state agencies! Aren’t they supposed to make sure the regulations and laws already on the books are enforced? Why aren’t they?

  • I appreciate this insiders narrative that confirms my sense that these decisions are not done with transparency nor with any real evaluation of “the public good.” Our system is broken and from Jane Palmer’s description of the Working Group set up by the Legislature to examine if the public is being represented, it a’int gonna happen. Thank you for this look into the process.

  • Bethany Barry

    This pipeline has been filled with lies from the beginning, 4 years ago, and the PSB and PSD have clearly been acting on Governor Shumlin’s directives: get this pipeline in place no matter what. No matter that it’s a Canadian company, with fracked gas from Canada. No matter that both VGS and GMP are owned by Gaz Metro. No matter that the cost overruns have more than doubled, with over $500,000 spent on false advertising, week after week ls, touting the so-called “benefits” of fracked gas. No matter the cost to ratepayers. No matter that there ARE no benefits to current or future customers, nor that most residents don’t want fracked gas, nor pipelines running through their neighborhoods, nor towns, nor schools. Disregard the danger, and ignore the necessity of renewable energies, for the health of our state and planet.Disregard the bullying tactics, obfuscation of facts, the secrecy and back-door dealings.We deserve integrity and transparency from the PSB, PSD and Vermont officials.

  • Melanie Peyser

    VGS tries to publicly shame anyone, who raises legitimate concerns, but that’s cover for the company’s own misfeasance. VGS has a 5-year track record of saying whatever it thinks is necessary to get whatever it wants at the moment. Beth Parent insists thousands of residents are waiting for gas and that they would already have it but for Geprags. The truth is, (according to VGS’s own recent Act 250 filing – https://anrweb.vt.gov/PubDocs/ANR/Planning/JO%201-390/Supporting%20Materials/JO%201-390%20Ex%20003a%20Resp%20to%20Burke%20Request%20for%20Memoranda%20.pdf) as of 9/21, VGS hadn’t even started building the Vergennes distribution network. No one there would have gas this winter. VGS had only built 1/2 of promised distribution service in Middlebury and says it may NEVER build other promised portions b/c VGS can’t force people to switch to NG and won’t go down streets or into developments unless there’s demand and there isn’t https://twitter.com/energy_ferret/status/792933929988808704 .

  • Rachel Smolker

    Thanks Bill for laying it on the line. Beth Parent, VGS, the Department of Public Service have arrogantly railroaded this project through the town of Hinesburg, like other towns and private properties all along the route. Not only have they failed to engage in fair and transparent negotiations, but they have played cover-up with regards to many inadequacies in the construction and management of the project. In particular it is weighing heavily that after discovering that regulations for safe construction in proximity to high voltage transmission wires (VELCO) were not being followed, VGS and DPS have done nothing at all ensure they were addressed. Instead DPS granted 3 extensions to VGS for responding which meant construction continued for 4-5 months without correcting the problem. I have zero confidence in the integrity and safety of this pipeline running through our community.

  • Jane Palmer

    Mr Marks may give VGS the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t. VGS knew what laws they were “avoiding” and how easy it would be to just ignore the fact that this is a public park in its quest to get an easement through it. VGS has an army of lawyers working long hours to push this project through the legal courses. There is NO way this was an oversight. There is also a video tape of a VHB environmental consultant stating unequivocally, that the wetlands in the park were FIELD DELINEATED. That means, a wetland expert had to walk through the area and determine if wetlands were present. The map showed no wetlands where VGS wants to install the pipeline but anyone who walks there knows there is standing water there all year long. Once they were called out on it, this person denied there was ever a field visit. So, not only are the lawyers incompetent,(or worse) the environmental experts VGS has hired to help them site this project are also incompetent.(or worse)

  • John Madden

    Vermont Constitution, Chapter I (A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Vermont), Article 4 (Remedy at law secured to all.) Every person within this state ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which one may receive in person, property or character ; every person ought to obtain right and justice, freely, and without being obliged to purchase it ; completely and without any denial ; promptly and without delay ; comformably to the laws.
    In other words, Article 4 gives grounds and reason for Civil Action in the Superior Court, with Gaz Metro / VGS (not the Public Service Board) as Defendant, and a long list of effected property owners as Plaintiffs.
    We have a Constitutionally guaranteed Civil Right to protection from death and destruction caused by explosive gas pipeline and infrastructure, and politically appointed Public Service Board, and Gov. Shumlin.
    Common sense here folks.

  • Beth Parent is talking about my neighborhood, my neighbors. I write simple words to describe the ugliness that this pipeline has caused. My neighborhood, a beautiful peaceful place. Classic Vermont. Geprag’s park donated for Conservation, Forever. Beth Parent, if it weren’t for Canadian owned Vermont gas, I wouldn’t have such friendships with my lovely neighbors. Oh, and when you map out a route for pipeline, you might have all the easements up front. Guess you figured out all the back doors like PSB, Selectboards. The citizens still want to speak, the property owners, the taxpayers who pay for fire departments, rescue. We have been locked out of most discussion.