Costco pitches partial opening for its Colchester gas pumps

Published: Jan. 7, 2019 at 5:08 PM EST
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Costco wants to open its gas station in Colchester-- but only for limited hours. It's Costco's way around a stalemate during a court battle over planned traffic improvements.

As part of Costco's permit to run a gas station, traffic improvements are being added to the Exit 16 area. But those are getting hung up on appeals from opponents. And Costco can't fully open its gas station until those traffic fixes are done.

But it may have a solution-- to open it partially. Costco says it hired an engineering firm to review traffic in the area and based on that study thinks its facility can operate during off-peak hours without causing excessive backups.

Costco's lawyers also said they think being open even for limited hours may encourage a resolution to the yearslong fight that shows no sign of wrapping up anytime soon.

Despite the pumps sitting ready for more than a year at the Costco in Colchester, no one has been able to fill up yet.

"I think they have a right to open it," said Peter Yates of South Hero.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Would you take advantage of it, if it were open?

Troy Cholewa/Fairfax: Oh, for sure-- if it's a huge discount.

Costco says it has been waiting nearly six years to open its facility. But they're not sure when it will happen. In a letter to the state, the company's lawyers said, "Costco never contemplated that it would be delayed years beyond its own permit appeals."

So while the legal fight over traffic improvements continues, Costco wants to open the gas station for parts of the day, times when the company says traffic won't be an issue.

But opponents say it violates a key part of Costco's permit. Skip Vallee, who owns the Maplefields near Costco, has led the charge. The owners of the Shell/Cumberland Farms nearby have also signed on. And the Conservation Law Foundation also says VTrans' proposed $10 million intersection overhaul would have negative environmental impacts.

Last summer, a judge sided with VTrans but that appeal is sitting with the Vermont Supreme Court now.

In delaying the most recent hearing, which had been planned for Thursday, Vallee's lawyers told the state they were not informed of Costco's change of plans last summer, saying in a statement to WCAX News, "Costco improperly hid its request from key stakeholders for over nine months."

All this legal back-and-forth is frustrating to some drivers who have been hoping for a break on prices at the pump. Last year, Costco told us its gas prices could be about 20 cents cheaper per gallon than neighboring spots.

Some drivers we spoke with in Colchester said they would like to see more competition.

"I think the gas would be good there. It would be pretty crazy there. Crazier! But it will give more options to people," said Jason Pariseau of Colchester.

Others were concerned about the impact it would have on local stations.

"I say no. I prefer to keep it at small town, local kind of gas dealers. And I hate to see them going out of business because Costco all of a sudden has cheaper gas by a few pennies," said Tom Avenia of Colchester.

WCAX News contacted the town of Colchester for reaction to a potential gas station opening earlier than planned. The planning and zoning department said the town supports Costco's approved plans to add gas pumps and expand their store with no limit on hours or days.

Here are Costco's proposed operating hours for its gas station:

Monday-Friday: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. & 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Saturday: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. & 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.