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State Launches Eminent Domain For Vermont Gas Pipeline

The Vermont Public Service Board opened eminent domain proceedings this week against four landowners who haven't given Vermont Gas Systems permission to build its gas pipeline through their property.

Those proceedings are starting despite the fact that the board may revoke the company’s permit for the project within weeks.

The Public Service Board is still in the process of deciding if construction on the pipeline will be allowed to continue after costs went up about 78 percent in 2014. During a similar consideration period earlier in the year, the board declined to open eminent domain proceedings because their outcome could become moot if the project’s permit is revoked.

This week’s moves breaks with the "status quo" the board cited in earlier orders in which it postponed condemnation proceedings. But Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia says he doesn't think the board's move to start the process necessarily signals that it plans to affirm its approval of the project.

“I wouldn't read anything into this about their proposed decision on the remand, but I do think they recognize that time is important and so they're starting this parallel track,” he said.

Time has become an increasingly important factor for the pipeline as the company prepares to build the final stretch of the project in 2016.

An agreement between Vermont Gas and the Department of Public Service in October is set to expire January 8 if the board hasn’t decided whether to uphold the permit or not. Recchia has said the company may decide not to pursue the project if the board delays its decision beyond that date, a claim the company officials haven’t refuted.

Recchia said the board orders that launched the eminent domain proceedings explicitly limited the scope of the work, likely because of the uncertainty surrounding the project.