Pipeline Blues Logo

The News and Sentinel
17 November, 1999

For Some, the Pipeline Job was More Nightmare than Dream

By Holly Howes

While many area residents are enjoying lower tax bills, some say that it isn't enough to compensate them for what they lost as a result of the pipeline construction.

"We're really disillusioned," stated Bradley Hann of Colebrook. "The value of our property is gone forever."

The Hanns were told that the pipeline could go through the meadow portion of their property on Hall Stream, rather than the higher, field portion along the road. When a $1,000 offer came for their field, they realized the pipeline was taking the more valuable property. The assessed value was $109,000, with the potential for seven or eight building lots. Now the property can only be used as a hay field, and the Hanns never received an explanation for the decision to take their more valuable land.

"If they said no wetlands, then fine, but when you can drive and see the pipeline in wetlands in Colebrook, what is the justification?" asked Mr. Hann. The Hanns also had a number of encounters with pipeline representatives who they say were pushy and rude.

Ruby Wallace of Columbia, whose land had the potential for some choice building lots overlooking the Connecticut River, had the same experience as the Hanns. She can't develop her land, since the pipeline went through were the best lots would be.

This was a tough lesson in eminent domain for many residents. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants a pipeline permit, the state has the power to take land for public use with payment of compensation to the owner. That compensation is supposed to be at fair market value. In this case, a 75-foot wide "easement" was given for construction of the pipeline, and 75% of fair market value was to be paid for the land.

"We're very comfortable we paid fairly for those rights," stated John Flumerfelt, spokesman for Portland Natural Gas Transmission Systems.

The company spent years and millions getting permits under the federal pipeline act. One of the requirements of the permit is to minimize the impact on landowners.

Attorney David King commented on the land acquisitions. "When the first land agents came to meet with landowners, a significant number settled for peanuts. Basically they were told to sign, or it would be taken by eminent domain. The releases were very comprehensive and just left the door open for cosmetic work. It also allows them to come back and lay another pipe without any compensation."

Julie Giroux of Stewartstown was mowing her lawn at the farm on Route 3 one day when a man came along and asked if she knew a pipeline was coming. "The next thing we know, the sheriff is taking our property by eminent domain," stated Julie.

For the Giroux, the past year has been one of endless frustration and inconvenience. When their well was damaged during the construction, E. Coli appeared in their water supply. After months of telephone calls, failed water tests, ineffective filters, and inadequate repairs, the Giroux finally got a new well last week.

Many residents of Stratford, Columbia, Colebrook, and Stewartstown have needed new wells or other repairs as a result of the blasting and other construction practices. The process was often long and frustrating for the landowners. "It has been an unusual pocket of problems," sated John Flumerfelt of PNGTS: "We don't usually have this many. It's a real trouble spot. There are still a number of outstanding issues, and it has taken longer than it should to get them resolved."

"It's one thing to say at the beginning that things will be completed to your satisfaction, but to ignore what the outcome is after the project has ended, that speaks volumes about a company," observed Stewartstown Selectman Connie Coviello.

"I wasn't getting any satisfaction until the selectmen wrote a letter to the state," Ray Lavigne of Stewartstown stated. "We never heard anything until they called last week. We were ready to go to court."

Ray came right off the couch one day when the blasting began behind his house. Since he was 300 feet away, the workers didn't inform him of the blasting. After that, his water turned cloudy from some type of sediment. "I was getting the run-around all the time. Now they're going to install some kind of filter."

Ray has also been waiting for repairs to the end of his driveway. When the pipeline crossed the road above his house, workers never re-ditched the driveway. During a winter thaw, sand washed down and filled the culvert. When it froze, the ground heaved and ruined the driveway.

"They came up here and money was no object for them. Now they don't want to come back and look at the problems. They kept saying they'd be here tomorrow, and I would stay there to wait all day long. No one showed," stated Ray.

Ray doesn't think the tax break was worth it. "I expected a bigger break. It may have changed for this year, but I don't think it will last," commented Ray.

Howard Carney, also of Stewartstown, was left waiting on his repair. The pipeline workers dug up his new road three times. The three layers of gravel mixed with mud and made for a real mess last spring. The last two people Howard saw about the problem were lawyers for PNGTS. "They keep saying they'll get back to you," stated Howard. "So far I've had no help." Howard thinks it will take about 200 yards of gravel and new guardrail to fix the road. The trees along the drive were cut down during the construction, and guardrails will be needed for safety.

According to Attorney King, the vein of Norma Delong's spring was cut, and PNGTS had to supply her with bottled water for many months. They kept running out and were often unable to keep an adequate supply. Water had to be carried to Norma's horses, and one of the horses died from the stress of the process. It took months to get restitution from PNGTS

Attorney King reviewed many cases regarding property damage, but most landowners decided not to pursue them. PNGTS had the choice of having cases heard in Coos County Court in Lancaster or in Federal court in Concord. The company chose Concord, which meant a long ride and inconvenience for the landowners. "It's a real strain for people here to go to Concord. Many more would have pursued cases if it had been closer," suggested Attorney King.

One of the largest cases that David King settled involved Allen Bouthillier's property in Milan. Many stumps were buried, which meant that over time they would rot and create sink holes. His crushed gravel road was destroyed by the heavy pipeline equipment, and now the road is only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle. The case was settled when Mr. Bouthillier counter sued, stating that the pipeline company had trespassed on his road. PNGTS had never filed papers to request the right to use the road.

"I just wish they had gone a little slower and treated people a little better," suggested Attorney King.

Numerous individual landowner's claims have resulted in new wells and other costly repairs, but the exact number of cases is not available from PNGTS.

Fred Miller, a member of Colebrook's planning board, says he's pleased with the performance of PNGTS and H.C. Price, the subcontractor. "On any construction job like that, certain things are going to happen no matter how careful you are. They responded well and did what they said they would do. Anytime we needed something done, they responded right away."

This month marks the first anniversary of the PNGTS pipeline. The new pipeline is now running at full capacity of 170,000 cubic feet per day, and additional capacity can be achieved by adding compression to the pipe. John Flumerfelt stated that PNGTS has "absolutely no plans to lay a second pipe in that location, and further construction is a long time away."

Burt von Dohrmann, regional ranger for the state Division of Forests and Lands, commented on the benefits to the state. "We knew that towns would benefit with tax money, but the big benefits were gas for the southern parts of the state. Portsmouth needed clean energy for power plants. The mill in Groveton is also using the gas from the pipeline."

"Our state sold us out," commented Julie Giroux, who is very bitter over her experience with PNGTS. "In Vermont you get to vote on it. I hope people remember what we went through before they approve something like this again."

This original of this article is mirrored by Vermonters for a Clean Environment and reproduced here without permission.

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