A heated debate in Middlebury over Vermont Gas pipelines. The company wants to expand south from Chittenden County into Addison and Rutland counties. But critics say the move is contrary to Vermont's renewable energy goals.
Protestors gathered at the Middlebury Middle School with one clear message-- stop the gas pipeline. On Tuesday evening, the Public Service Board held the second hearing in response to the proposed Addison Natural Gas project.
"I came here today because the pipeline is going to potentially go through our farm. Initially I sort of didn't want that, the NIMBY approach, but as I learned more about the gas pipeline and the fracked gas, it became much bigger to me," explained Mary Martin, who is against the pipeline.
Phase one of the three-phase expansion entails bringing natural gas from Colchester down to Middlebury through 11 communities. Vermont Gas says says the $91 million project will ultimately lead one day to Rutland and can offer more affordable energy.
"We are about 44 percent less than oil, 51 percent less than propane, so people-- businesses in particular-- really see this as a competitive necessity, especially in a state where we have seen a lot of layoffs lately," said Steve Wark with Vermont Gas.
But nearly 600 people gathered in the gymnasium for the hearing and many spoke in opposition of the pipelines. Environmental impacts and safety worries were main issues of concern.
"This proposed fracked gas pipeline would increase Vermont's reliance on dangerous fossil fuels. This is the opposite of what we the people through our Legislature have said that they want," explained opponent Sharon Tierra.
"Vermont Gas' proposed route has Vermonters homes, including ours, permanently situated in the 'potential impact radius.' The area in which everything would be destroyed in the event of an accident," said Andrew Marks, who's also opposed.
Supporters of the pipeline also spoke at the hearing, many arguing that the pipeline is an important resource many communities need.
"I don't believe and I would love to see that we don't need gas and oil, but that's not the point that we are at," said supporter Donna Donahue.
Several supporters, like two Middlebury business owners, say they left early because the hearing was getting out of hand. But both argue that the pipeline is vital for Vermont business.
"Economically for the county this would be a good thing. There are many businesses here and institutions -- high school, college, the hospital, Agrimark, two breweries -- that we have that could certainly save a pile of money in what they are using for fuel," said supporter Steve Dupoise.
The Public Service Board says the hearing was only to gather information and people's testimony will not be used to make a decision in the case.
Vermont Gas hopes to get the board's approval by the end of the year. Ultimately, the Public Service Board has the final say, not the citizens.
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