Rutland Herald

Pipeline's demise

March 9, 2000

Gov. Howard Dean was stating the obvious when he told Arlington residents at town meeting on Monday that the natural gas pipeline proposed for southwestern Vermont was dead.

Dean had been a supporter of the pipeline, at least in the abstract, thinking it would provide southwestern Vermont with a new source of low-cost energy. But voters in Manchester, Sunderland, Tinmouth, Danby, and Dorset are all on record in opposition. "At some point you have to listen to the voters," Dean said.

Developers had proposed to extend a natural gas pipeline from New York state to Bennington and then up to Rutland. In order to make the shipment of gas a winning economic proposition, the project depended on the construction of gas-fired power plants in Bennington and Rutland. But developers of the project have still not lined up financing for the power plants, and one of the participants acknowledges that the project is on hold.

Delays in putting the project together have caused delays in the process of obtaining permits, and it is the economic factor as much as local opposition that has doomed the project.

Still, residents of the mountainous towns between Rutland and Bennington were galvanized into a determined and articulate opposition by their concern about the pipeline. Their nearly unanimous opposition to the introduction of new industrial infrastructure reveals a deeply felt love for the beautiful rural landscape where they live.

Opposition to the pipeline did not come from Montpelier-based environmental groups, which are sometimes accused of imposing an elitist agenda on working Vermonters. Opposition came from working Vermonters who value the rural character of their towns and do not want their property or their surroundings tampered with by large external forces.

In proclaiming the demise of the pipeline, Dean was bowing to what seemed like an inevitable result, much in the way that the state gave up on a highway bypass in Rutland. Once a project appears to be dead, it is useful to pronounce it dead, both to relieve residents of worry and to shift the focus away from tiresome controversy.

Meanwhile, the vehement pipeline opposition may give pause to OMYA Inc., which is seeking to open up a quarry in Danby. Already residents in Danby and Tinmouth are up in arms about the prospect that their towns will be transformed by the noise, dust and traffic of a marble operation.

The pipeline project - its advent and its demise - has not left the region unchanged. Residents of Danby and other towns in the region are likely to take an active role in submitting future projects to close scrutiny. That means the economic value of large-scale projects such as OMYA's will be tested against the value that local residents place on the rural character of their homes.