Lebanon OKs Natural Gas Plan Extension

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/22/2016 6:18:00 PM
Modified: 3/23/2016 3:48:58 PM

Lebanon — The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the extension of two variances that would allow developer Jay Campion to build a natural gas facility and fueling depot on his 182-acre property in Lebanon’s light industrial and rural lands district, but ruled he must get state approval first.

“Essentially what we’re doing is we’re throwing it to the PUC,” Zoning Board Chairman Jeffrey Halpin said on Monday.

The board’s ruling will allow Campion and his company, Valley Green Natural Gas, to build the facilities only after receiving a natural gas franchise from the state Public Utility Commission, and construction of the fueling depot is contingent on construction of the natural gas facility.

Campion previously said he would go ahead with the fueling station if the PUC decided against granting a franchise. That worried board member William Koppenheffer, who said both variances were approved two years ago with the intention that the two facilities would be built together.

Koppenheffer said that if the proposal gets approval from the PUC, he would be in support of the project. But without a franchise agreement and the natural gas facility, he said, there’s no reason a fueling depot should stand alone on the property.

“I did not come prepared to make a separate case for a solo depot refueling facility. I didn’t think that was what I came here for,” Campion replied. “I came to request the approval of both variances as a package.”

About 12 people protested the hearing, holding signs outside City Hall that read “No Fracking Gas” and “No!! Gas depot Lebanon.” Inside, they argued that Campion’s proposal would add to the city’s carbon footprint and isn’t financially sound.

Resident Kathleen Beckett said she’s worried about the safety of a natural gas facility close by, and cited instances across the country where similar buildings were evacuated.

“I’d hate to see that happen in Lebanon,” she said.

Ariel Arwen, a member of the Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee, questioned whether there was business for such a facility, citing Valley Green’s lack of an anchor customer.

“Last week at Liberty Utilities’ hearing, in which I participated, it was cited that there are many examples of where an anchor customer will sign a contract on a condition that a franchise is granted,” she said.

Liberty Utilities is competing to build a natural gas facility off of Route 12A in Lebanon, and officials with the company went before the PUC for an eight-hour hearing on Thursday.

“We feel that we possess the managerial, technical and financial ability to operate a franchise in the Upper Valley area,” Liberty spokesman John Shore wrote in an email on Friday.

He wrote that commissioners expressed concern that the utility doesn’t have any signed contracts “but it is difficult to get a signed contract with a customer when we don’t have franchise rights yet and we can’t offer a timetable for offering services until we have those rights.”

A January PUC staff review of both the Valley Green and Liberty Utilities projects recommended the commission suspend its consideration until they could better explain financial plans and why no anchor customers have signed on.

Seven Upper Valley residents wrote letters to the state Public Utility Commission warning Liberty Utility’s proposed pipeline would contribute to hydraulic fracturing and increase the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Much of the opposition to the proposed pipeline focuses on both Liberty Utilities and Valley Green’s plan to use natural gas mined from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. To extract the gas, companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” where a combination of chemicals and water are pumped into the ground to break apart the rock formations.

Environmentalists have worried the drilling method could threaten local water supplies and harm the health of nearby residents.

Hanover resident Carol Weingeist wrote that possible pollution caused by natural gas drilling should weigh heavily on the PUC’s decision to grant a franchise.

“We in New England need to work on the further development of renewables such as solar, wind, as well as energy efficient initiatives,” she wrote.

The board voted 4 to 1 to approve Campion’s extension, with Halpin voting against. He said during the hearing that the city’s attorney should first weigh in on how the variances effect one another.

Along with PUC approval, Campion’s proposal also needs Planning Board and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services approval before it can move forward.

In other business, the Zoning Board will continue a hearing on the James W. Campion III Rink during its April 18 meeting.

The Hanover Improvement Society and nonprofit Campion Sports and Recreation Project hope to add a second rink, more parking and updated lobby and locker rooms to the existing property on Route 10. The addition would create an “L” shaped complex and almost triple the building’s footprint.

The Recreation Project argues the additional rink is needed to accommodate the expanding need for ice time. But the project has been opposed by neighbors who say promises to protect them from noise and light pollution have gone unfilled.

On Monday, officials representing the project said they will soon be going before the city’s Conservation Commission to discuss its impacts to nearby wetlands, and updated the board on discussion with nearby neighbors to reduce the effects to their property.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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