Lucia Suarez / Staff photo
Anna Shireman-Grabowski, a Middlebury Collegesophomore, presents a petition to Patrick Norton, chief financial officer, and Bill Burger, vice president of communications, at Middlebury College.
MIDDLEBURY — Students and community members have petitioned Middlebury College to rethink its support of the natural gas pipeline expansion project proposed for Addison County.
At a small demonstration held outside the Old Chapel building on the Middlebury campus Tuesday afternoon, about 20 students and community members presented a petition with more than 1,400 signatures to college officials.
The more than 50-page petition asks the college to retract its letter from two years ago in support of Phase I of the Addison Natural Gas Project by Vermont Gas Systems. It also asks the college to reinvest in a bio-methane project instead.
“The community united will never be defeated,” the demonstrators said during the short rally before presenting the petition to college representatives. “Stand with the community. … Anything less is not acceptable.”
Patrick Norton, chief financial officer at Middlebury, and Bill Burger, vice president of communications, accepted the petition only after the rally was done. The duo representing the college had come out when the protesters arrived, but returned inside when they noticed the demonstrators were going to speak before handing over the petition.
“I am taking the petition and presenting it to the college president and to my colleagues,” Norton said after accepting the documents.
Anna Shireman-Grabowski, a sophomore at Middlebury College, who led the charge Tuesday said they have had a lot of trouble reaching college officials regarding the issue. She said they tried to approach the college in March to start a dialogue, but efforts have been thwarted at every turn.
“We came to them respectfully,” she said. “They have refused to talk with us.”
Shireman-Grabowski said she hopes college officials will stand behind the students and community members who are against the project.
In a two-page letter sent to college students, faculty and staff Monday, college President Ron Leibowitz said while the college continues to listen to and understand the arguments against the pipeline, it believes they “do not fully take into account the economic needs of the communities around us, or the lack of sufficient alternative sources of comparable energy in the near term.”
He went on to say that they believe the project will contribute to the region’s economic welfare and that it would be unacceptable for the college “to stand in the way of real and measurable progress toward goals broadly shared in our community.”
Leibowitz continued: “We believe that our support for the natural gas pipeline to Middlebury is consistent with Middlebury College’s long-standing commitment to the environment and to the economic well being of the community around us.”
Burger said he spoke with several of the protesters earlier this week for more than an hour about the issues raised by the project.
The gas pipeline project’s Phase I is going through the regulatory process before the Public Service Board.
The company recently unveiled potential routes for Phase II of the project.
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