Vermont Gas Offers Mediation to Reluctant Landowners Over Rights of Way Disputes
Struggling to gain rights-of-way for a natural gas pipeline, Vermont Gas has invited landowners who have so far resisted its attempts to secure land-use rights to negotiate through a third party. Vermont Gas is seeking to build the pipeline through Addison County and so far has only secured 70% of the land use rights it requires.
While most of the remaining 30% are in active negotiations, about 20 landowners have so far refused to engage in any negotiations at all. Faced with the possibility of an eminent domain action that will force them to sell the land, these holdouts are being offered a final chance to avoid that fate by entering into voluntary mediation with Vermont Gas. The company hopes a neutral third party will remove fears that the company is gaining an unfair advantage. It will also allow the company to avoid using eminent domain, which is very unpopular and has a high public relations cost.
Relations between the company and landowners have suffered due to third-party contractors hired by Vermont Gas who handled negotiations too aggressively. Many of the final holdouts have stated it is not a financial issue, but a desire to not work with Vermont Gas. Other landowners have acknowledged that the compensation Vermont Gas has offered is what they would have expected or demanded, but that they lack the resources to hire legal help to advise them. For those landowners the mediation – paid for by Vermont Gas – is an attractive incentive to get back to the negotiating table.