MONTPELIER -- Monkton homeowner Maren Vasatka was among several Vermonters who received notice from Vermont Gas recently about the potential use of eminent domain to make way for a natural gas line. And she’s not happy about it.
Vasatka said that before receiving the letter, she had been involved in negotiations with the company about an easement option but still had lingering questions.
"We shouldn’t be forced to sign that agreement out of arm twisting without having our issues addressed," Vasatka said Friday.
Vermont homeowners and community members met with Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia and state Sen. Chris Bray, a Democrat from New Haven, in Monkton on Thursday to express concerns about the gas company’s plans.
The meeting came on the heels of pushback from Town Meeting Day voters in Cornwall, Shoreham and Monkton to the Vermont Gas plan.
The three towns passed non-binding resolutions to oppose expansion of the pipeline.
Vasatka said she doesn’t think the pipeline is necessary and its construction brings safety risks to the region.
Vermont Gas has already won permission from the Vermont Public Service Board to extend its line through Monkton and other towns to Middlebury. The next phase of construction would pipe natural gas from Middlebury to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., passing through the rest of Addison County, including Cornwall and Shoreham, and also underneath Lake Champlain.
Vasatka said what bothered her most was her experience with the company.
"It’s been the way we and other homeowners have been treated that’s by far the most disturbing," Vasatka said.
Vermont Gas spokesman Stephen Wark stressed the letters indicated the possibility of eminent domain, not the start of any formal process.
"We hope it doesn’t go that way," Wark said. "We haven’t done eminent domain in the 50 years that we’ve been in business."
On safety issues, Wark said, the company’s blasting plan and other protocols have been reviewed and approved by the state Public Service Board and the Public Service Department.
"We remain committed to the landowners and working with them, but there are limits to what we can do," he said, regarding negotiations.
Recchia said Vermont Gas would be reaching out to those who received the letters and re-start negotiations. He asked landowners to be responsive to the utility’s efforts and he offered support if they have serious concerns.
"If they really feel like they can’t talk to them, please call us and we will try to help," Recchia said.
Recchia said his department would look into some of the residents’ concerns over easement agreements and how easement options were being structured.
Bray said Friday he could act as a liaison between the property owners and Vermont Gas. He said he would talk to the utility about setting up a fund to help landowners pay for legal costs and independent appraisals, so residents "can feel more confident in the negotiations they are entering into."