November 14, 2014
Governor promises action to rebuild trust with landowners along the fracked gas pipeline
Montpelier, VT - Ten homeowners in the path of the fracked gas pipeline held a meeting with Governor Peter Shumlin on Thursday in an attempt to achieve fairness and transparency while negotiating easements with Vermont Gas. Landowners have become increasingly exasperated with the tactics VGS is using to procure easements, including non-responsiveness, contradictory statements, and threats. "Right of way agents are not following Vermont law in agency disclosure when negotiating easements for their client, Vermont Gas.” said Maren Vasatka, a homeowner from Monkton.“VGS has flat out refused changes we have requested to protect our property. Their response was that we can sue them."
For the last two years, landowners have struggled to deal with VGS’ behavior, and their commitment to rebuild trust with VGS has been violated over and over. Landowners are weary of promises and platitudes and requested immediate, concrete action from the Governor.
“There should be a moratorium on all negotiations between VGS and landowners and all eminent domain proceedings until fair and transparent rules of the game are in place, including reimbursed legal fees for landowners," said Melanie Peyser of Monkton, whose mother's land lies in the path of the pipeline.
Participants also requested that Governor Shumlin clarify that his personal views on the project should have no influence on decision-making by staff members of agencies responsible for reviewing and applying conditions to any permits or certificates required for the project. "You made it clear that you supported this project even before it was analyzed by the Public Service Board and granted a CPG (Certificate of Public Good)," said Mary Martin of Cornwall. "That places an expectation on state employees to make it happen."
“VGS’ legal fees are paid for by ratepayers. The Department of Public Service’s legal fees are paid for by taxpayers. We are being forced to negotiate easements terms with them that will affect our properties forever,” said Diane Derrick of Hinesburg. She cited a condemnation proceeding with VELCO in which 30 years after his poorly-worded, original easement was signed, a landowner was forced to host another transmission line without any chance to negotiate terms or additional compensation. “All we ask is for our legal fees to be covered so that the same doesn’t happen to us.”
Although he did not outright denounce the project, Governor Shumlin admitted that VGS' behavior has been disappointing. He said they are not acting like good "corporate citizens" and vowed to assign his team to tackle the many problems the homeowners identified with the process and VGS' practices and tactics.
“Out of our small easement payment we are expected to pay taxes, attorneys, fees to modify our mortgage deeds, increased homeowners’ insurance, environmental mitigation, damages to dwellings, wells, septic, radon, and so forth,” continued Vasatka. “We are expected to take all of the risk."
"You speak often of doing things the Vermont way," said Jane Palmer, of Monkton, to the Governor. “Although some of us were not fortunate enough to have been born here, we are Vermonters, and we care about this state and the people. You need to pay attention to those who have elected you and trust you to do the right thing by us and our state."
"The status quo needs to be replaced immediately with a fair and transparent process that protects landowners’ rights," said Peyser after the meeting. "I greatly appreciated the governor's willingness to share his team to work with us in the coming days to identify workable solutions to fix the process quickly so that no more landowners' interests are put at risk. We all agree that change is imperative and urgent. I'm hopeful, but seeing is believing. A drawn out process or half measures aren't enough. Once we've nailed down reimbursement of legal fees, an investigation into the nature of easements already signed is underway, and independent counsel is in place to represent the public in all pipeline dockets, I'll be fully convinced that Governor Shumlin means business."