Landowners 'knit-in' protest at Vermont Gas headquarters

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Landowners 'knit-in' protest at Vermont Gas headquarters

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 10:46am -- tim

by John Herrick vtdigger.org Landowners affected by Vermont Gas’ pipeline extension through Addison County occupied the natural gas utility’s South Burlington headquarters Wednesday. One Monkton resident was arrested for trespassing. The landowners are calling on the utility, a subsidiary of Gaz Metro, to publicly admit that land agents trespassed on private property. The landowners are also demanding that the company drop prosecution of protesters and negotiate fair right of way agreements. Jane Palmer, Maren Vasatka and Claire Broughton, residents of Monkton, and Mary Martin of Cornwall own residences in the path of the proposed pipeline extension. The company has begun staging for the construction of the first phase of pipeline. South Burlington Detective Ron Bliss said Palmer was arrested for trespassing. He said the other residents left after receiving a trespass notice Wednesday afternoon.

Nathan and Jane Palmer of Monkton are not happy that a proposed natural gas pipeline is slated to go through their property. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger Nathan and Jane Palmer of Monkton are not happy that a proposed natural gas pipeline is slated to go through their property. File photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger.

Jim Sinclair, vice president of sales, marketing and service for Vermont Gas, said the company is trying to reach an “amicable agreement” with the landowners, which he said includes meeting with landowners individually.

State regulators gave the company a certificate of public good to build the pipeline last year. The company is allowed to use eminent domain, a process in which the Public Service Board determines a price for the company to pay the landowners to use their land for the pipeline. Vermont Gas has not yet pursued eminent domain.

The company has sent letters to several landowners with offers and a notice that the company can take the land through eminent domain if they refuse the offer.

“It is in this case a last resort,” Sinclair said. “We will continue to do everything we can to avoid that.”

He said he was not aware that the land agents contracted by Vermont Gas had trespassed on the landowners’ property. Several landowners say the agents surveyed their land without permission.

Sara Mehalick was chained to the front door at VGS headquarters in South Burlington during a protest in May. VBM file photo.

Vermont Gas alleges that an employee was assaulted during a previous incident in which a protester chained herself to the company’s front door. Bliss said the company is still seeking to identify the protester who committed the alleged assault.

“We certainly support the right of people to express their viewpoint as long as they do so peacefully,” Sinclair said.

He said the protesters last month crossed the line.

In a statement released prior to the Wednesday protest, Monkton and Cornwall homeowners opposed to the pipeline route stated that they were staging a “knit-in” at Vermont Gas Systems' headquarters and would occupy the main lobby and demand the company "stop trying to scare peaceful protestors and landowners with false allegations and eminent domain."

Jane Palmer, Maren Vasatka and Claire Broughton, all of Monkton, and Mary Martin of Cornwall said they live in the path of the proposed gas pipeline. They said they wouldn't leave until Vermont Gas publicly admits to illegally trespassing on land in Addison County, agrees to negotiate fairly with homeowners and stops trying to use scare tactics against peaceful protestors engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Vermont Gas offices.

Jane Palmer, who said Vermont Gas agents have already trespassed on her land when they violated a right-of-entry agreement, planned to stay until Vermont Gas meets her demands or has her removed from the premises.

"The protestors are not a threat and they have committed no crime," Palmer said. "Vermont Gas is wasting taxpayer money in this ploy to press charges against peaceful protestors.  This pipeline is an affront to our property rights and our rights to a safe and livable planet."

Palmer is currently embroiled in a battle with Vermont Gas to move the pipeline away from her home, and has been active in the statewide movement to stop the pipeline altogether. She said, "“Apparently, Vermont Gas doesn’t want a banner hung on their roof. But they want to build a bomb in my backyard.”

Palmer and her husband became active fighting the pipeline when they learned from a neighbor it was slated to come through their property, and that the gas was derived from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which they said contaminates water and air in Alberta, Canada, where it is extracted.

They issued the following demands:

1)   We want a representative of Vermont Gas/Gaz Metro to publicly acknowledge unauthorized entries upon lands by VGS and its agents and to agree that VGS/Gaz Metro and its agents will never again illegally trespass on land in its quest to site and build this pipeline.

2) We want VGS/Gaz Metro to stop wasting taxpayer's money by over prosecuting peaceful protestors and trumping up charges in an attempt to intimidate those that oppose this pipeline.

3) We want VGS/Gaz Metro to stop using eminent domain as a threat instead of a last legal resort and respect and negotiate fairly with homeowners.

Vermont Business Magazine added protester comments to this story.

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