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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Board Says Vermont Gas Can Use Eminent Domain in Park

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 at 7:04 PM

  • Alicia Freese
The Vermont Public Service Board will allow Vermont Gas Systems to use eminent domain to build its natural gas pipeline through Geprags Community Park.

The Hinesburg parcel was the last remaining piece of land along the planned 41-mile Colchester-to-Middlebury route where Vermont Gas had to secure the rights to install its pipeline. The area to be condemned is 50 feet wide and 1,987 feet long.

A group of Hinesburg residents represented by attorney James Dumont argued against the eminent domain request in front of the PSB during an August 4th meeting.

The board was not persuaded. In a decision issued Tuesday, it concluded that the pipeline "will have little or no impact on the park and its existing uses, both during and after construction."

Citing Vermont Supreme Court precedent, Dumont had argued that land already designated for a public use couldn't be seized for a different public use. But in its decision, the board reasoned that it was permissible if the public would be best served by both uses and as long as the "second public use would not destroy or materially interfere with the prior public use."

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Pipeline Foes in Vermont Show Support for Like-Minded Sioux

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 at 4:23 PM

Pipeline protesters in New Haven - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Pipeline protesters in New Haven
Approximately 60 protesters gathered Tuesday morning at a construction site in New Haven where Vermont Gas Systems is building its controversial pipeline. The work is contracted to Michels Corporation — the same Wisconsin-based company building the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, where members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have in recent weeks ignited nationwide dialogue about the environmental effects of natural gas extraction.

While Rising Tide Vermont members and others have protested Vermont Gas' pipeline for years, Tuesday's action was in response to a call put out on social media by North Dakota's Sacred Stone Camp, a group started by members of the Standing Rock Sioux, for global demonstrations of solidarity. 

"A lot more people [than usual] are going to be coming out today because of the Standing Rock camps," said Alex Prolman of Rising Tide. 

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Swanton Wind Seeks Permit for Seven-Turbine Project

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 6:58 PM

Swanton Wind proposes a seven-turbine project for a hillside off Vermont 105 in Swanton. - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Swanton Wind proposes a seven-turbine project for a hillside off Vermont 105 in Swanton.
Swanton Wind filed its long-anticipated application Thursday to build as many as seven wind turbines on a hilltop in Swanton.

Lawyers submitted the application for a certificate of public good, a package of expert testimony and proof they'd paid a $100,000 filing fee to the state Public Service Board on behalf of Travis and Ashley Belisle, a local couple seeking to build the turbines on their property.

As part of the application, the couple made a new offer designed to appease critics. They said they would give a post-construction buyout option for neighbors within 3,000 feet of the turbines who are unhappy with the project.

"Swanton Wind is confident that if a neighbor wants to sell, Swanton Wind will be able to resell quickly any property purchased under the program," the couple said in a news release. 

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pro-Wind Group Seeks to Change Message

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 2:31 PM

  • File: Kathryn Flagg
A new Vermont group in support of wind power has formed, and its members hope to counter the increasingly loud opposition movement.

Wind Works VT is a coalition of individuals and wind power developers, said Kyle Martel of KSE Partners, a Montpelier government affairs and strategic communications firm that represents the group.

Arguing that public opinion polls show strong support for wind power, the group has launched online ads to make the case that wind is a locally generated, clean and renewable source of energy critical to meeting the state’s renewable energy goals.

The individuals and developers behind the group don’t want to be identified, Martel said, “because of the way the anti-wind crowd has bordered on harassment.”

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wind Industry — and its Super PACs — Back Sue Minter for Governor

Posted By on Sat, Aug 6, 2016 at 1:14 PM

Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell - FILE: KATIE FLAGG
  • File: Katie Flagg
  • Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell
Travis Belisle doesn't usually involve himself in politics — and he's no liberal. 

"I've never voted for a Democrat in my life," he said Friday. 

But the Swanton construction executive donated $5,000 this week to an independent-expenditure political action committee supporting Democrat Sue Minter's campaign for governor. The so-called super PAC, named Vermonters for Strong Leadership, bought $120,000 worth of television ads Thursday calling her "the progressive" in the race.

So why did Belisle give?

"I think Sue Minter is probably a very good fit for Vermont, but I kind of leave it up to my team," he said. 

Belisle was referring to the stable of lawyers and consultants he employs to assist in his controversial bid to build a 20-megawatt wind farm near the Swanton-St. Albans town line. 

"What they did is they said, 'Hey, for the primary, each candidate needs to raise substantial funds, blah, blah, blah. Is that something you'd support — a candidate to get a governor you'd like to see running the state of Vermont?'" he recalled. "My wife and I sat down and said, 'Yeah.'"

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Vermont Gas, Pipeline Foes Face Off at Public Service Board Session

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 7:54 PM

Protesters outside the Vermont Gas hearing Thursday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Protesters outside the Vermont Gas hearing Thursday
In a small room in a large warehouse, the Public Service Board on Thursday heard Vermont Gas Systems make a case for why it must send its natural gas pipeline through a public park in Hinesburg. And it listened as James Dumont, an attorney representing seven town residents who use the park, argued against the company’s request.

The meeting, which lasted all day, dealt with minutia. But the stakes are high: This is the final right-of-way that Vermont Gas needs to complete its 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, which company officials hope to do by the end of the year.

“This is the last piece of the puzzle in our effort to being able to complete the pipeline,” said Vermont Gas president Don Rendall, in an interview after the hearing. 

Outside the building Thursday morning, pipeline protesters lay on the pavement, their faces painted chalky white and bodies cloaked in white sheets. They explained to reporters that they were staging a “die-in” as the casualties of climate change. 

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Minter Gains Backers as Dunne Scrambles to Explain Wind Position

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 7:07 PM

Sue Minter wins the endorsement of Vermont Conservation Voters on Tuesday at the Statehouse. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sue Minter wins the endorsement of Vermont Conservation Voters on Tuesday at the Statehouse.
Vermont Conservation Voters, an environmental group that supports like-minded candidates for office in Vermont, wasn’t going to endorse any of the candidates for governor until after next week’s primary election. 

That changed Tuesday afternoon, when the group announced its board had voted unanimously to back Sue Minter over two rivals in the Democratic primary. The reason for the switch: Rival Democratic candidate Matt Dunne’s revised policy statement on wind projects.

Fallout has been fast and furious since Dunne issued the statement Friday afternoon. On Sunday, it cost him the support of environmental activist Bill McKibben, who switched his allegiance to Minter.

VCV and others piled on the criticism of Dunne on Tuesday.

“We believe that Matt Dunne’s revised position on renewable energy siting would undermine Act 174, the renewable energy siting bill that was a major priority of the environmental community this past legislative session,” said Lauren Hierl, VCV’s political director.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Shumlin Calls Out Dunne on Wind Statement

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 5:33 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse in March
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Monday drew the ire of departing Gov. Peter Shumlin, who essentially called him a liar over a statement on siting controversial wind projects.

Dunne argued that his support for allowing towns to vote down industrial wind projects is no different than Shumlin’s position. Not so, Shumlin countered.

“Anyone who says they are in line with my position on renewables, and who then comes out for a veto on renewables, is not telling the truth,” Shumlin said in a statement Monday.

Dunne issued a statement Friday that he said constituted a clarification of his views on siting industrial wind turbines in Vermont. “Large-scale ridgeline wind projects should only take place with the approval of the towns where the projects are located,” he said.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Dunne’s New Wind Stance Draws Criticism — and Surprising Praise

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 6:32 PM

  • file photo
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Friday put out a new wind-turbine siting policy statement that drew a bevy of criticism from renewable energy advocates — and praise from one of his competitors. 

“If a town says no to a large industrial wind project I would use all the power of the governor’s office to ensure that is the end of the project,” Dunne said in his statement. “I will ensure that no means no.”

Supporters of wind energy strongly oppose putting decisions about projects in the hands of voters in one town and have vehemently fought legislation to give towns power to veto projects.

The Public Service Board process is designed to consider the overall public good of the state over that of a select group of people, argued Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “I’m pretty disappointed,” he said of Dunne’s position.

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Hinesburg Selectboard, Vermont Gas Reach Agreement on Pipeline

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 12:14 PM

  • Alicia Freese
Vermont Gas Systems and the Hinesburg Selectboard have come to an agreement on the company’s plans to construct a pipeline through the town-owned Geprags Community Park. A group of residents continue to oppose it, however.

The Public Service Board, which has yet to approve the company’s request to use eminent domain to take the Geprags parcel, will review the request next Thursday. In a widely criticized move, the PSB has decided to close that hearing to the public because protesters have repeatedly interrupted previous proceedings. 

The 41-mile natural gas pipeline, which will run from Colchester to Middlebury, has spawned ongoing protests and encountered many setbacks, including major cost overruns.

The selectboard withdrew an earlier agreement with Vermont Gas after a public outcry. Under the new agreement, approved in a 3-2 vote Thursday evening, the board negotiated additional concessions from the company. Among them: Vermont Gas will use horizontal drilling to minimize the impact on the park’s wetland area, and it will pay the town $250,000 for easement rights. (Under the previous agreement, it would have paid $75,000.)

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