MIDDLEBURY — A Plainfield man wanted in connection with a protest at the Vermont Gas Systems headquarters was arrested Thursday at a public meeting in Middlebury about a gas pipeline project.
The man, identified as William Bennington, 25, faces a trespassing charge.
A group that opposes the Vermont Gas plan to extend service to Addison and Rutland counties protested outside the company’s headquarters in South Burlington on May 27. Police say a protester injured a worker while trying to chain a protester to the door. The employee was struck in the arm by the large chain.
Police said two other protesters went to the roof to display a banner. Bennington is said to have been one of them.
Police say they’re still looking for the other rooftop protester and the one who injured the worker.
Opponents showed up in large numbers Thursday for the second of two public hearings on the proposed natural gas pipeline that would serve the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, New York.
Opponents of Phase II of the Vermont Gas Systems project cited a litany of mostly environmental, but also economic and moral, reasons the Public Service Board should deny a permit that would extend the pipeline from Middlebury, southwest to Shoreham and Cornwall, and under Lake Champlain, to the IP plant.
At the start of the three-hour hearing Thursday at Middlebury Union High School, 80 people, almost all opponents, had signed up to speak.
Many in the auditorium were wearing “Stop the Fracked Gas Pipeline” stickers.
Morris Palmer, of North Ferrisburgh, said human excess has left a burden for his generation. “I’m 23 years old and I’m a little pissed because your generation got to enjoy cheap fossil fuel without having to worry about things like climate change,” Palmer said.
Climate change and the environment were on the minds of others who spoke.
A Middlebury woman expressed concern about the future of Lake Champlain and the thousands of people who depend upon the lake for their drinking water.
She said burying the pipeline under the lake would stir up toxins from the IP plant that have “remained in the sediment for decades.”
“So what we’re considering is threatening the health of Lake Champlain and the drinking water supply of nearly 200,000 people for the sake of a handful of Phase II gas customers,” she said.
She also said the pipeline could also have a negative impact on tourism in Vermont and New York.
Another person, citing Section 248 criteria, said the pipeline does not meet the public good and will have adverse effects on public health and the environment.
Vermont Gas has promoted the pipeline as a way to provide a much lower-cost and cleaner-burning fuel alternative to other parts of the state. But opponents challenged those claims. They said the extraction method of hydraulic fracking, which pumps large amounts of water mixed with chemicals underground, releases methane into the atmosphere, which they said is more harmful than the carbon dioxide emissions from fuel oil. And they said the price of natural gas is forecast to increase as demand increases and supplies diminish.
The board also heard objections to the use of eminent domain, if property owners along the route of the pipeline don’t grant easements to Vermont Gas.
David Mook, who teaches at Castleton State College, said his students raised valid questions about the project. He said one student found it hard to understand how Vermont could import fracked gas when fracking is banned in the state. “She said that doesn’t seem right,” Mook recalled.
Some opponents made impassioned pleas to the board while others put their objections to poetry. Applause often greeted speakers as they left the podium.
There were a handful of pipeline supporters present, including Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
“There is an overwhelming majority of Vermonters and regional partners who support this project and I’m delighted to represent that majority,” said Bishop, whose statement drew laughs and a few critical comments from the audience.
Another supporter was Paul Stone, an Orwell farmer and former state secretary of agriculture.
“I agree with the Vermont goal of 90 percent renewables by the year 2050, but I also know that fossil fuels will be needed for a long time until renewables are online and dependable,” Stone said.
He also said Vermont would benefit from seeing a reduction in emissions that the wind carries over the lake from the IP plant, which now uses fuel oil.
Dan Yonkovig, of Starksboro, equated natural gas with good-paying jobs.
He said if there “wasn’t natural gas in Chittenden County, IBM would have pulled out a decade ago.”
Yonkovig said natural gas is just as critical for other manufacturers in the state, otherwise people will find themselves working at convenience stores.
“America is a manufacturing nation, we can’t all be farmers, housewives, retirees, school teachers, work on the road crew,” he said. “Some of us build things. We process milk at AgriMark, we bottle beer at Otter Creek, we make microchips, we make paper.”
The Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project would extend the pipeline from Chittenden County in three phases. In December, Vermont Gas received a certificate of public good for Phase I. The first leg of the pipeline — which is now under construction — would extend south to Vergennes and Middlebury, serving both residential and commercial customers. Phase II would serve the IP plant while Phase III would serve parts of Rutland County. Because IP is paying $62 million of the $64 million cost for Phase II, Vermont Gas has said that infusion of money will allow it to bring gas to Rutland 15 years earlier than anticipated.
Vermont Gas, a subsidiary of Gaz Metro of Montreal, has been providing natural gas to Chittenden and Franklin counties since 1965.
The PSB continues to receive public comments on docket 8180. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or write PSB, 112 State St., Montpelier, VT 05620.
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