Tuesday, September 12, 2000   

50/50 chance for gas power plant here

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The pipeline project has not been abandoned and there's a 50/50 chance a massive power plant could end up in Bennington.

"We have not abandoned the project," said Tom Macaulay, partner in Vermont Energy Park Holdings, the company responsible for development of the proposed plant. "It's on hold at the moment."

According to Macaulay, Vermont Energy Park Holdings is waiting for the electricity wholesale market to mature.

"We want to see how many power plants will be built in New England and what the demand for additional electricity will be," he said.

Though they are also reviewing sites in Rutland and Schenectady, N.Y., Macaulay said there is a 50 percent chance a plant could be built in Bennington.

Originally backed by Gov. Howard Dean, the proposed natural gas plant and pipeline project has been a thorn in the side of many private property owners in Vermont.

"The route for the pipeline goes through private property in Shaftsbury, Arlington, along Route 7 near Manchester, Dorset, Mt. Tabor, Danby, Tinmouth, and Clarendon," said opponent Annette Smith of Danby, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment - a grassroots organization that has lead a campaign against the pipeline and plant project from the start. "This appears to be something that has the blessing of the state of Vermont."

According to Smith, New York State Electric and Gas came in, mapped out a proposed route and left, leaving property owners on hold.

"What needs to be asked to NYSEG now is what are their intentions," Smith asked.

Bruce Roloson, manager of planning and development for NYSEG and general manager of the Southern Vermont Natural Gas Project, is quite clear on his project's intentions.

"Our hope is to find a solution where we can bring gas to Bennington residents," he said.

Roloson said he is currently in the planning stages, and looking at a number of possible routes for the pipeline.

"We're looking at maps, terrain, different routes and the most cost-effective way to come," he said.

Roloson also said he was not in a position to say what routes were being considered, when the plans might go into effect, or how it might affect Bennington.

Abby Shapiro, co-owner of the local recycling company Planet 3, has definite ideas about how the proposed project will affect Bennington residents. Involved in a grassroots movement to garner enough voters' signatures to place a referendum for public vote on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, Shapiro is sure that a power plant in Bennington would be detrimental to residents.

"The amount of pollution put into the air will definitely be a health risk," she said. "There will be an enormous discharge stack and big clouds of steam containing pollutants."

Shapiro has spearheaded a petition titled "Don't Be Deceived! The Proposed Power Plant for Bennington is Not for the Public Good." Designed to gain signatures for the referendum, she said it also serves to educate local residents, offering information associated with the construction of the proposed plant.

"I knew nothing about this when I went to a meeting in September" of last year, she said. "But by the end of it, I was outraged."

According to Shapiro, some of the potential annual emissions from a 270 megawatt power plant as proposed for Bennington are 129 tons of particulate matter, 536 tons of carbon monoxide, 66 tons of sulphur dioxide, 129 tons of nitrogen oxides, 53 tons of volatile organic compounds and approximately 1 ton combined of ammonia, copper and nickel.

Shapiro also pointed out that the plant would create only 35 jobs, have a main facility the size of football field with a discharge stack rising at least 165 feet in the air, have large power lines emanating from the plant with electromagnetic fields, and be located in a deep valley within one mile of seven Bennington schools, the Community Built Park and the Vermont Veteran's Home.

"I have three young daughters," she said. "It's unsafe for them and anyone else."

Though plans are still underway and Bennington is a definite consideration for the power plant, Town Manager Stuart Hurd said nothing has happened on this for more than a year and no one has been in touch with the town.

He also said that, according to bylaws in the state of Vermont, power plants can go anywhere.

"A power plant can go anywhere," he said. "We have no power to say yes or no."

"I have a family I want to protect, that's why I'm doing this," Shapiro said of her efforts to get a referendum on the ballot. "It's a whole lot easier to stop it before it gets started. Once it gets started - it's harder."

She added that petitions are available for residents to sign at Spice N' Nice, Mary's Coffee Express, and Hemming's Sunoco Station.