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Vermont Gas Ordered To Halt Digging Near VELCO Lines

The Vermont Public Service Board ordered Vermont Gas Systems to stop digging for its pipeline near power lines owned by the Vermont Electric Power Company, citing environmental and health concerns.

Vermont Gas approached the Public Service Board after the state Agency of Natural Resources alerted the company to the possibility that soil contaminated with Pentachlorophenol (PCP) could be disturbed by pipeline construction.

Pentachlorophenol is a wood preservative and pesticide that has been restricted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it’s been found to be toxic to humans and probably carcinogenic as well. VELCO’s poles have been treated with PCP and the Agency of Natural Resources raised concerns that digging near those poles could release the toxin into the environment.

Last week, Vermont Gas said in a letter to the board that “it would be prudent” for the company to develop a soil management plan for the pipeline project. In response, the board required the company to stop digging in the potentially contaminated areas until a soil management plan has been reviewed and approved by the board.

Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark says the soil management plan, which dictates how soil will be treated and safely moved during construction, was filed with the Public Service Board Friday. The board will now have a week to review the plan and take comments before deciding whether or not to approve it.

The order is far short of what some critics called for after Vermont Gas announced earlier this month that the project cost would increase by 40 percent over the cost estimates approved by the board. Opponents have called for an immediate stop of the project while the company returns to the regulatory process to have the higher price approved.

Last Friday’s order from the board to halt construction near VELCO power lines is part of an unrelated look at soil problems, but nonetheless could cause delays in the project if Vermont Gas doesn’t have an approved soil management plan in place soon.

Correction July 29 at 9:23 a.m.: An earlier version of this story named the wrong company when referring to VELCO by its full name.