High court ponders gas pipeline under park; residents gripe

By Wilson Ring, Associated Press

The state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about whether a natural gas pipeline that has faced years of public opposition should be allowed to run under a public park in Hinesburg.

In this Oct. 24, 2015 file photo, demonstrators protest in Montpelier, Vt., a natural gas pipeline by Vermont Gas Systems through the western part of the state. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday, April 4, 2017, whether the pipeline should be allowed to run under a public park in the town of Hinesburg. If the company loses, it has agreed to remove that section which already has been laid beneath Geprags Park. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The state Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about whether a natural gas pipeline that has faced years of public opposition should be allowed to run under a public park in Hinesburg.

If Vermont Gas loses the case heard by the court Tuesday, it has agreed to remove the section of the pipeline that it installed by horizontal drilling, which alleviated the need to dig an open ditch, beneath Geprags Park.

Opponents argue that state utility regulators were wrong to allow the pipeline to be run beneath the park, which is meant for public recreational or educational purposes.

"There is a 2,000-foot pressurized pipeline full of an explosive gas going through a public park," attorney Robert Woolmington, who represents the opponents of the pipeline, said during the Tuesday hearing in the Supreme Court in Montpelier.

He said that over time the pipeline in Hinesburg, a town of about 4,500 residents on the edge of the Green Mountains, could need maintenance and could deteriorate.

But Vermont Gas argued the gas line, which is buried beneath the park and was installed without digging up the park, is compatible with the public's use and enjoyment of the park.

"It's compatible because it does not interfere materially with the public's existing use of the park," Vermont Gas attorney Jeffrey Behm said. "In fact, I would say it doesn't interfere at all with the existing use of the park."

Meanwhile, Vermont Gas says construction of the 41-mile pipeline, which runs from Colchester to Middlebury, is nearing completion and customers could begin receiving gas within the next several weeks.

The $165 million project, intended to provide natural gas to thousands of new Vermont Gas customers, drew opposition from a number of neighbors along its route. And a number of people were arrested at protests.

The last obstacle to construction of the pipeline was running it through Geprags Park. Vermont's utility regulating Public Service Board determined the project would not affect existing recreational uses of the public park.

A number of Hinesburg residents intervened in the case, arguing Vermont Gas should not have been allowed to put the gas line beneath the park.

It's unclear when the court will rule on the case. Vermont Gas posted a $1 million bond to cover the cost of removing the pipeline and restoring the land in case the high court rules against it.

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