In response to detailed allegations about safety shortcuts, Vermont Gas Systems has agreed to an independent review of its Addison pipeline project.
VGS spokeswoman Beth Parent says the company wants the review to answer long-running questions about pipeline construction.
“We are confident in the integrity of our pipeline,” Parent says. “But that’s really what the process of an outside expert review would look at, right? And we expect to participate very strongly in that process.”
Pipeline opponents say the company’s own documents show improper construction and a failure to document safe construction practices. Lawyer Jim Dumont says the investigation is just what his clients have asked for.
“I think it’s a great step forward,” Dumont said. “My clients have been submitting filings to the Public Utility Commission starting last July, asking for an independent investigation of the safety of the entire pipeline.”
In February, the Department of Public Service recommended a $25,000 fine because workers allegedly laid the pipe in some areas directly on the ground in a trench instead of on a layer of sand needed for protection and to prevent corrosion. The department also sought additional testing to ensure safety.
In recent weeks, Dumont has filed more allegations about alleged construction shortcuts.
“This started when we had information that the pipeline wasn’t buried deep enough,” Dumont said. “And then when the company filed information about that, we asked discovery questions. We found out there were other violations and we asked discovery questions on that. And then we received enough information to submit a very broad request for a complete safety investigation of the construction of the entire pipeline.”
The Department of Public Service says it believes the pipeline is safe, but it's prepared to hire an outside consultant to look at the installation.
“With the remediation plan recommended by the department – which includes more robust pipeline testing, and increased frequency of pipeline integrity inspections than was originally contemplated – we believe the pipeline will remain safe during its future operation,” Jim Porter, the department's director of public advocacy, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, another arm of state government has raised questions about the pipeline's impact on wetlands. The Agency of Natural Resources says Vermont Gas failed to install a type of clay known as bentonite to prevent wetlands crossed by the pipe from being damaged or drained.
“The lack of a permanent bentonite trench breaker in a location that necessitates a trench breaker has the potential to result in a significant impact to a wetland or stream resource,” the agency said in a letter filed last week with the Public Utility Commission.