Pipeline opponents and their lawyer, Jim Dumont, have been busy! And after just one small request for comments, 74 different people filed comments in these three cases!!!
- Jim and the Intervenors have asked the PUC to add eight serious issues of careless pipeline construction to the ongoing investigation of shallow burial of the pipeline. Seven of the newly-discovered problems are safety issues, ranging from failure to provide adequate support for the pipe to failure to protect the pipe from corrosion. The eighth problem raises the issue of the failure to provide “trench breakers” to protect against draining wetlands. The 33-page Motion to Broaden the investigation is supported by 903 pages of documents that were painstakingly analyzed by a few members of Protect Geprags. ANR’s response requests an investigation of the wetlands issues. Vermont Gas requests an independent investigation. The State DPS claims it already resolved all but 3 issues, and it wants to hire the expert and control the investigation. The Intervenors will respond on April 5.
- In another case, the state Department of Public Service has asked the PUC to give Vermont Gas a light slap on the wrist (a $25,000 fine) for its safety violations. Vermont Gas has eagerly agreed, since that minor fine would probably foreclose the more serious consequences the Intervenors seek. Jim and the Intervenors have requested a chance to be heard in this separate case, and have also requested that the State’s case be put on hold until an Independent Investigation of all of the violations has been completed. Vermont Gas agreed to postpone this case until an independent investigation investigation was completed. The State DPS asked for this case to be kept separate and settled for a $25,000 fine. UPDATE: Find the PUC Notice on this case HERE!!!
- In a third case, Vermont Gas seeks PUC permission to build a new valve station in Monkton. Nate and Jane Palmer have intervened in that case and requested that the Monkton case be put on hold until an independent investigation is completed. Vt Gas, the Town of Monkton, and the Regional Planning Commission have agreed to the delay sought by the Palmers. The PUC has not yet ruled.
Meanwhile, Lisa Barrett and Julie Macuga traveled to Montreal for the shareholders’ meeting of Valener, the company that owns Vermont Gas. They told the shareholders and Board of Directors of their safety concerns about the pipeline and requested that the company (1) hold Vermont Gas accountable and (2) prevent any further expansion of the Vermont Gas pipeline.
We are sifting through thousands of pages of documents – and these are only some of the issues that are emerging. Back in October 2016 and again in April 2016, we delivered a long list of concerns and their documented basis to the federal Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). They opened an investigation. Issues we raised included problems with welding, with HDD, various concerns about pipe coatings (the first line of defense against corrosion), failure to comply with electrical safety protocols required when doing construction under high voltage transmission lines, and other very serious concerns. Perhaps most fundamental was VGS persistent failure to have provided comprehensive written specifications for construction to their contractors.
OCTOBER 11: SUPREME COURT HEARS CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION CHALLENGE TO PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION
Sandy Levine was brilliant in presenting Conservation Law Foundation's (CLF) arguments to the VT Supreme Court, arguing that the cost overruns (doubling the price of ANGP project) are indeed a significant change to the project that should have required an amendment to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Certificate of Public Good. It seems a no-brainer that a doubling in costs should be considered a very significant and substantial change to the project, requiring review! As Sandy explained to the Justices, if you were having a roof put on your house and a contractor estimated the cost to be 10k, and then came back later to revise the estimate to 20k, you would want to reconsider your contract! CLF has been making this argument regarding the cost overruns and their relevance to the CPG for more than three years. The PUC sat on it, refusing to even hear the arguments for more than two years, and then ruled in favor of Vermont Gas Systems (VGS), which is why CLF appealed to the Supreme Court. VGS tried to deflect Sandy’s arguments, but the Supreme Court Justices asked VGS lots of tough questions. We can expect a decision in six months to a year.
OCTOBER 10: PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION STATUS CONFERENCE FOR PIPE BURIAL DEPTH CASE
On Tuesday afternoon, Public Utility Comission(PUC) held a status hearing on the case investigating Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) failure to bury the pipeline to proper depth. Our lawyer, Jim Dumont, requested an evidentiary hearing, opportunity for discovery, and a chance for us (not just VGS) to present at a public hearing. Department of Public Service, VGS and even the Agency of Natural Resources seem inclined to drop the whole matter of pipeline burial depth. However the hearing officer (Mr Tousley) ruled in no uncertain terms: there will be an evidentiary hearing, discovery, and intervenors will present at a public hearing.
Discovery is key as it will give us a chance to require VGS to provide us the information we need to prove what really happened with the pipe burial in the swamp, under streams, and in residential neighborhoods. Read more about the pipeline burial depth case below!
Dates, times and locations for upcoming steps remain TBD. Meanwhile, there is lots to do, and a long way to go, but most determinedly we march ONWARDS!
OCTOBER 10: PUBLIC HEARING ON VERMONT GAS SYSTEMS' INTEGRATED RESOURCE PLAN
On tuesday evening, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) held a public hearing on the VGS Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). http://www.vermontgas.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2017-IRP.pdf
There were maybe 20 people in the audience, none of whom seemed too favorably inclined toward VGS. VGS’s presentation on their IRP was more like a glossy advert, with absurdly superficial treatment of the comparative costs of fuels, and lack of comprehensive assessment of energy options (to say the least). But they did not get away with it. Some sharp folks in the audience called them out, again and again, point by point. VGS was forced to admit their data was faulty and their charts inaccurate, which was clearly no fun for them at all.
if you didn’t make it to the hearing, you can still submit comments on the IRP, and advise PUC on whether they should approve it or not. To do so, go to ePUC.vermont.gov, and enter the case number: 17-3658-PET. You can also email comments to email@example.com.
OCTOBER 2: SUPREME COURT RULING
2 weeks ago, in a 4-1 decision, the VT Supreme Court majority decided that the 2000-foot high pressure gas pipeline would not interfere with the use of Geprags as a public park. This ruling sets horrible precedent, allowing utilities to construct through public lands, even in defiance of the wishes of land donors. Geprags Park was donated with a covenant in the deed requiring the land be used only for recreation, education or a school. Not a pipeline!
This point did not go entirely amiss in the court. In a ringing dissent, Justice Eaton wrote, “Granting an easement for a pressurized gas pipeline through a park dedicated to recreational or educational uses only…, materially impairs the prior use” and requires “specific legislative authorization.”
Of course, we are disappointed by this decision, but we are not going to stop fighting this pipeline which has a 40-50 year lifespan and is barely operating yet!
Now we are challenging VGS for their admitted failure to bury the pipeline to the proper depths as required by their state “Certificate of Public Good” (CPG) permit.
donate to support legal fees here!
HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED:
In September of 2016, we heard that an excavator had fallen into a wetland and become stuck. The VGS was essentially forced to admit they had failed to bury the pipeline deep enough, and filed a request that this failure be deemed a “nonsubstantial change” to their permit. VGS claims the only place they didn't bury the pipe correctly is, coincidentally, the one location where they were caught. The CPG permit also specifies that VGS must report any problems with meeting conditions to the DPS immediately. Yet, they finished work in the area with shallow burial in September 2016 and did not file their request until June 2017. Where this happened, near the New Haven/Monkton border, is a designated “state significant area”, a beautiful wetland and clay plain forest. One of us went to the site to take a look. The excavator was gone, but the pipeline lay in a shallow trench only a few inches below the ground surface in a location where the permit required it to be 4 feet deep. Together with 7 grassroots organizations and over 100 citizens, we submitted photos of the shallow pipe to the federal Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) along with documentation of a number of other issues with the pipeline construction and lack of oversight. We also sent those to the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS), which is responsible for ensuring compliance with permits. PHMSA later questioned the DPS on several matters, including the depth issue.
A number of citizens are intervening in this pending case before the Public Utility Commission. We requested that the PUC launch an investigation into the pipeline depth of cover, which they did (an uplifting indication that the new chair of PUC, Anthony Roisman, may take his job seriously). We have also requested an independent depth survey of the entire route.
Through multiple public record requests, we have found indications that permit requirements for depth of burial under streams, roads and agricultural lands as well as residential areas, were likely not met. There are other construction safety issues emerging as well, which, in sum, cause us to feel deeply concerned for the safety of those living near the pipeline. The federal pipeline authorities identify sloppy construction, poor communication with contractors, lack of qualified workers, and poor oversight among the main reasons for the increase in pipeline leaks and explosions that we are seeing around the country. VGS pipeline is a poster child example. Help protect our communities by supporting our ongoing legal challenge.
On another note, VGS recently went before the PUC to request that they be able to charge ratepayers to recoup additional costs they incurred. Included among those, they seek to charge ratepayers for costs of surveillance of activists. Those included $49k for surveillance software, $16k for a security consultant, and $68k paid for law enforcement “services”, among other. VGS reports having had an internal team of 25 (!) to monitor the social media of opponents to their project.
Not only is it an outrage that VGS wants ratepayers to pay for surveillance of those who oppose them, it is a further outrage that citizens meanwhile have very limited access to information about their activities, as they rip through the landscape constructing a massive climate and community hazard across our state. Public record requests yield only records in the hands of the State, not those that VGS holds. Responses to our record requests have been delayed, and DPS lawyers first decide what to withhold from our view.
VGS also requested permission to charge ratepayers for the costs of the legal challenge over Geprags Park. We meanwhile have struggled to pay our own legal fees as we are fighting this (Canadian –owned) gas company. Something is not right in this picture!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Donate here to help us pay legal fees as we continue to challenge VGS!
Attend the upcoming status conference for the depth case on October 10 (2:30pm), at the Susan Hudson hearing room, People’s United Bank Building 112 State Street, Montpelier. VGS tries to characterize its opponents as just a small cadre of troublemakers, without the backing of broad public support in our concerns. Come and show your support!
Help launch a public outreach campaign! Vermonters need to know what is happening, and understand the dangers of this gas pipeline. Talk to your friends and neighbors, write about it for your local paper, organize or attend an event to learn more! Especially important is to educate landowners along the future buildout route to Rutland. Landowners need to know the full extent of their rights, and risks!
Follow the Vermont Climate Union. We need to broaden our scope to ensure nothing like this happens again. The newly launched “Vermont Climate Union” is a positive sign that we can pull together here in Vermont to demand: NO MORE NEW FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Protect Geprags Park :http://www.protectgeprags.org/
Vermont Climate Union:https://www.vtclimateunion.org/