Monday, October 17, 2011

Vermont Environmental & Land Use Law, October 17, 2011

Photo by dvs on Flickr

$4.4M Vermont Natural Gas "expansion fund" approved, Rutland Herald (Vermont View)

MONTPELIER — Plans to expand Vermont’s natural gas system took a step forward last Friday when state energy regulators narrowly approved a controversial method for funding the build-out of new pipelines that could eventually carry natural gas into Addison County.

The state’s Public Service Board, in a 2-1 decision, said Vermont Gas Systems could take $4.4 million annually from its existing customers and put it in an “expansion fund.” The fund is designed to help pay for the extension of the company’s gas network from northwestern Vermont south into Vergennes and Middlebury.

Vermont Gas, owned by Canada-based Gaz Metro, hopes to someday expand the natural gas network into Rutland County and connect to the national system near Lake George, N.Y.

The gas line expansion project, estimated to cost $60 to $70 million, is not close to being built. Vermont Gas hasn’t yet filed a permit application with the Public Service Board, so the board’s decision last week was limited to the expansion fund. But the board’s approval of the fund is a key development, state officials said.

PSB still must approve Vermont Gas expansion, WCAX

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont Gas Systems has cleared a key hurdle toward expanding its natural gas pipelines south from Chittenden County into Addison County, but it still must clear another.

The utility must get what is essentially a state license from the Public Service Board. The company and the Department of Public Service, which represents consumers, are differing over how broad the board's review should be.

The hurdle just cleared by Vermont Gas Systems was the board allowing it to bill current customers for the costs of the expansion, which as planned would reach Vergennes and then Middlebury.

That approval drew a protest from the Vermont Fuel Dealers' Association, which represents oil and propane dealers, among others. It sees Vermont Gas being given an unfair competitive advantage.

Post-Irene rules on stream work expire in Vermont, New York, Burlington Free Press

MONTPELIER — In the disastrous days after the remnants of Hurricane Irene sent stones and mud surging down swollen waterways, workers in Vermont and New York were given special permission to dig in river and stream beds without written permits.

A month after the storm, the emergency rules in both states are expiring, to the relief of environmentalists and scientists who fear river-altering projects like channel-cutting and rock removal could end up making future flooding worse.

After Irene tore through the Northeast on Aug. 28, Vermont allowed oral instead of written consent for emergency work and New York waived normal permit rules for work that addressed "an imminent threat." Officials in both states said the extraordinary steps were necessary to quickly help small mountain towns left crippled, isolated and fretting about weakened culverts and bridges.

"In the first month we were dealing with communities that had extreme emergency situations. They needed to get into the river before the next rainfall to clear debris, otherwise they were going to lose another culvert or another bridge," said Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz. "But now were dealing with issues — while they're important and pressing and we need to resolve them before the snow flies — we have time to take that deep breath."

Markowitz said Friday that verbal authorizations will only be allowed now in emergency cases where there is imminent danger. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's post-Irene emergency declaration is expiring Saturday, but the same northern counties affected by Irene were included in an emergency declaration after Tropical Storm Lee hit a week later. That declaration expires Saturday, Oct. 8.

EPA fines Jay Peak for wetlands violations, Burlington Free Press

JAY — Vermont's Jay Peak resort has agreed to pay $80,000 in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for illegally filling in wetlands and streams when it was building a golf course between 2004 and 2006.

The EPA says the improper work by a construction company working at the resort affected wetlands and streams feeding the Jay Branch Brook, which flows into the Missisquoi River, a tributary of Lake Champlain.

EPA issued Jay Peak Resort a compliance order in September 2010, requiring that the company restore the affected wetlands and streams.

It says the company worked with EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to comply with the order.

Resort spokesman J.J. Toland says the violations occurred under previous owners, and the current ones cleaned them up.