Vermont Gas Systems has filed for a federal wetlands permit as part of its pipeline expansion from Colchester to Middlebury.

The Public Service Board approved in late December a Vermont Gas proposal to build the 43-mile, $86.6 million Addison Natural Gas Project to expand its service south along the western side of the state.

The first phase of the pipeline expansion project will temporarily impact about 23 acres of wetlands, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' public notice. A federal permit for the project is required by the Clean Water Act, which regulates the filling of wetlands.

All temporary fills for construction will be removed when the project is completed to non-wetland locations, the notice states.

Steve Wark, director of communications for Vermont Gas, said he expects the permit to be issued between February and mid-March. He said this will not delay the project's groundbreaking, and it is not expected to increase the costs of the pipeline expansion.

The pipeline project has been the subject of public controversy in Addison County, but has the support of the area's lawmakers and several towns along the proposed route.

Vergennes recently voted to support the pipeline during a municipal referendum in December. A group of landowners in Monkton have criticized the project and Vermont Gas' process of obtaining property easements.

Opponents say some of the gas that will pass through the pipeline is derived from the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and is harmful to the environment.

Vermont Gas also has applied to the PSB for the second phase of the pipeline expansion, which would connect Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The second phase of the expansion would move the utility closer to completing its final proposed extension to service Rutland, Vermont Gas officials have said.

Public comments on the permit application should be submitted before Jan. 24 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Permit Project Manager Michael Adams at 802-872-2893 or 978-318-8485 or by email to michael.s.adams@usace. army.mil.