‘Knit-in’ Protest Held At Vt. Gas

Landowners Wanted Utility To Publicly Admit Trespassing

South Burlington, Vt. — Landowners affected by the Vermont Gas pipeline extension through Addison County occupied the natural gas utility’s South Burlington headquarters Wednesday. One Monkton resident was arrested for trespassing.

Five women were served trespass warnings at a “knit-in” calling on the utility, a subsidiary of Gaz Metro, to publicly admit that land agents trespassed on private property. The landowners are also demanding that the company drop prosecution of protesters and negotiate fair right-of-way agreements.

Jane Palmer, Maren Vasatka and Claire Broughton, residents of Monkton, and Mary Martin, of Cornwall, own residences in the path of the proposed pipeline extension. The company has begun staging for the construction of the first phase of pipeline.

South Burlington Detective Ron Bliss said Palmer faces a trespassing charge. He said the other residents left after receiving a trespass notice Wednesday afternoon.

Jim Sinclair, vice president of sales, marketing and service for Vermont Gas, said the company is trying to reach an “amicable agreement” with the landowners, which he said includes meeting with landowners individually.

State regulators gave the company a certificate of public good to build the pipeline last year. The company is allowed to use eminent domain, a process in which the Public Service Board determines a price for the company to pay the landowners to use their land for the pipeline. Vermont Gas has not yet pursued eminent domain.

The company has sent letters to several landowners with offers and a notice that the company can take the land through eminent domain if they refuse the offer.

“It is in this case a last resort,” Sinclair said. “We will continue to do everything we can to avoid that.”

He said he was not aware that the land agents contracted by Vermont Gas had trespassed on the landowners’ property. Several landowners say the agents surveyed their land without permission.

Vermont Gas alleges that an employee was assaulted during a previous incident in which a protester chained herself to the company’s front door. Bliss said the company is still seeking to identify the protester who committed the alleged assault.

“We certainly support the right of people to express their viewpoint as long as they do so peacefully,” Sinclair said.

He said the protesters last month crossed the line. On May 27, a worker was injured during a protest and two people climbed onto the utility’s roof to display a banner.

Information from Vermont Public Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.