Geprags Park supporters stage rally outside of Vt. Gas

About three dozen protesters opposed to the construction of the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline demonstrated outside Vermont Gas headquarters in South Burlington last Thursday.

People at the rally held signs and banners protesting the pipeline project. They are seeking a halt on construction on the project and asked that the park be protected. They walked in front of the South Burlington utility’s Swift Street building, standing around the entrance. Some of the demonstrators donned costumes and headgear representing sunflowers and trees. No arrests were made, said Vermont Gas Communications’ Manager Elizabeth Parent.

Construction on the project is underway in the park. The land was donated to Hinesburg by the Geprags family with a stipulation that it be used for “recreational and educational purposes.” The Public Service Board last year approved an easement through the park. Late last fall, a group of Hinesburg residents filed an appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court. Last December, the court removed a stay that halted building through the park, opening the door for construction to proceed while the matter remains before the Supreme Court.

“It sets a terrible precedent when donors cannot be confident that land they donate will be protected in accordance with their wishes, even when it is spelled out clearly in the deed of transfer,” Rachel Smolker wrote in a press release.

Smolker, of Hinesburg, is part of a concerned citizens’ group, Protect Geprags Park, opposed to the project. She and another woman from Rutland Climate Coalition sought to speak with Vermont Gas Chief Executive Officer and President Don Randall during the rally, but didn’t get to talk with the executive.

Parent wrote in an email that the utility is open to speaking to the public about the pipeline. “Vermont Gas welcomes a dialogue about the important role clean and affordable natural gas plays in our state today and into the future – but last week’s event was not a forum that is conducive to a dialogue. We are excited to be at the final stage of the Addison Natural Gas Project,” Parent said. “We’ve worked hard to get the project on track, navigate rigorous regulation and committed opposition to get this project done and we’re very close.”

Nancy Baker, a Hinesburg resident, is a frequent visitor to Geprags Park and is upset that pipeline construction is proceeding before the state’s highest court rules on the appeal. “I am outraged that VGS is continuing to build their pipeline through our public park even before the court case has been decided,” Baker wrote. “If they lose the appeal and the damage is already done, what recourse will we have then? No amount of monetary compensation will make up for the damage to the pristine and biodiverse ecosystems that are part of Geprags Park.”

The South Burlington-based utility has promised to return Geprags Park to its “pre-drill condition” if it loses the appeal the residents lodged with the Vermont Supreme Court.

Smolker and Baker are among a group of Hinesburg residents who filed an appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court.

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