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Vermont Gas May Face Fines, Investigation For Killed Sunflowers

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is pursuing a civil enforcement action against Vermont Gas Systems after the company’s contractors killed dozens of protected sunflowers in July. The agency is also asking Vermont’s utility regulator to investigate the company for potential violations of its "certificate of public good," which sets out conditions for the pipeline’s construction.

If the board opts to investigate the incident, Vermont Gas could face fines from both environmental regulators at the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and from the Public Service Board.

Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent says the company plans to cooperate fully with regulators.

In an August 5 filing with the Public Service Board, the Agency of Natural Resources said that about 77 harsh sunflowers were “cut or severely trampled” by a Vermont Gas contractor on July 19. Harsh sunflowers are considered a “threatened” species in Vermont and it’s illegal to kill or dig up the plants without a permit.

The company initially applied for such a permit earlier in the summer, but opted to use an underground drill in the area and withdrew its request to transplant some of the sunflowers. Soon after, the company alerted regulators to the fact that its contractors killed a number of the plants in the process of setting up the drilling operation.

Louis Porter, the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Wildlife -- which is within the Agency of Natural Resources -- said the agency’s enforcement action is separate from any investigation or disciplinary measures the Public Service Board might take.

“This is a threatened plant under Vermont law, a plant that we are responsible for protecting and ensuring is not eliminated in the state, and we take very seriously the protection of these species that are listed under the state law as threatened or endangered,” he said.

Porter said Vermont Gas has been cooperative since the incident. Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent said the Public Service Board can expect cooperation with any investigation there.

“We also developed a comprehensive harsh sunflower mitigation plan that details additional trainings for contractors, daily oversight and reporting, compliance monitors,” she said. “So ANR signed off on that plan and they authorized us to continue construction, and we plan on fully cooperating with both ANR and our regulators.”

Parent said there are no more harsh sunflowers along the remaining sections of pipeline the company plans to build.

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