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State Wants Expanded Safety Investigation of Vermont Gas Pipeline

A pipeline on a dirt path in a green field.
John Van Hoesen
VPR File
The Vermont Gas Addison County pipeline under construction. The state now wants to know if a licensed professional engineer signed off on the safety of the project.

Concerns over safety continue to plague Vermont Gas Systems and its Addison County pipeline, with the state questioning whether a licensed professional engineer signed off on the project.  

Meanwhile, the company has postponed plans to expand a distribution line to serve the Addison County town of Bristol.

Thirty-seven Bristol residents sued the town of Bristol in August over the pipeline expansion. They argued that state law requires a public vote on whether town rights-of-way could be used for the project.

Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent says the legal uncertainty has delayed permitting for the project.

“That legal challenge is still pending, so in light of that, Vermont Gas is pausing on applying for the Act 250 permit just pending the outcome of the lawsuit,” she said.

Opponents have raised concerns over the construction of the Vermont Gas Addison county pipeline, including allegations that the pipe was not buried deeply enough and that it was placed directly on the ground in a trench instead of on sand to prevent corrosion.

"There were many, many systemic problems with the construction of pipeline." - Rachel Smolker, Hinesburg resident and pipeline opponent

“There were many, many systemic problems with the construction of pipeline,” said Rachel Smolker, a Hinesburg resident and member of the group Protect Geprags Park that fought the pipeline expansion.

"We're not engineers," she said. "But we looked at their own records, and we came through with 900 pages of attachments on things that had not been done properly, from proper oversight of coatings which are supposed to protect from corrosion, to the installation of trench breakers that are supposed to keep water from leaking around the edges of wetlands." 

Meanwhile, the state Department Of Public Service, the agency that represents ratepayers, has asked utility regulators to expand an investigation into the pipeline’s safety.

The department wrote the Public Utility Commission in early December, after the National Transportation Safety Board investigated last September’s gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. The incident killed one person and injured dozens. The NTSB recommended that a licensed engineer approve the safety of pipelines in Massachusetts.

“The Department of Public Service considers the NTSB report and recommendations to be critically important, and the department is working internally to determine whether any of these recommendations identify requirements, practices, or processes which the department… may consider in the interest of safety,” the department said in its filing with the PUC.

James Porter, the department’s director of public advocacy, said the state also has ongoing oversight of the pipeline’s safety.

“We have continued to do our technical oversight ensuring the integrity of that pipeline all along,” he said. “So I do think it’s important to make a distinction between an investigation that deals with potential violations, maybe of … a building permit, as opposed to the integrity of the pipeline itself.”

"The Department of Public Service considers the NTSB report [on a Massachusetts pipeline accident] and recommendations to be critically important." - James Porter, state public advocate, in a filing with state regulators

Parent, the Vermont Gas spokesperson, said the company is confident in the pipeline’s safety. “We’re reviewing the NTSB recommendations related to the incident in Massachusetts, including on how to best apply them to our system in Vermont,” she said.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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