Cornwall targets gas pipeline; officials suggest Whiting route

CORNWALL — Many residents of Cornwall are hoping to convince Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) to leave their town off its list of potential routes for a new pipeline that would funnel natural gas from Middlebury to the International Paper Co. in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
VGS has been busily mapping out potential routes for the $70 million, 24-mile pipeline that it hopes to build in 2015 as an offshoot of a 41-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. That Colchester-Middlebury pipeline — currently under review by the Vermont Public Service Board — would be constructed beginning next year to provide natural gas service to Middlebury and Vergennes.
It was during the planning of the “phase I” pipeline that International Paper officials approached VGS about the prospect for a “phase II” pipeline to service the paper mill. That factory uses No. 6 fuel oil, which is currently 44 percent more costly than natural gas.
Vermont Gas agreed to pursue a phase II pipeline if International Paper agreed to underwrite it. The company agreed, and VGS has been eyeing possible routes through Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham, then under Lake Champlain, to get to the paper mill.
But it is a project that has drawn a lot of criticism, particularly from potentially affected landowners concerned about having their property bisected by a pipeline carrying a volatile substance that, at least initially, was earmarked for a single corporate client: International Paper. VGS has said it would consider providing natural gas service to Shoreham village, which VGS officials believe may have the population density to justify a service line.
In Cornwall, many residents and officials are not sold on the project, as evidenced by signs on at least half a dozen lawns on Routes 30 and 74 protesting the potential arrival of the pipeline. And Cornwall selectboard members have begun to air their frustrations with VGS officials, urging them to explore other route alternatives — including at least one involving Whiting. Such a route, Cornwall officials argue, would also take VGS infrastructure further south to Rutland, where Vermont Gas would like to be within a decade to  eventually connect with domestic natural gas reserves in New York.
One such route option, recently discarded by VGS, called for the phase II pipeline to begin at Route 7 South in Middlebury running to the Green Mountain Power right-of-way at Happy Valley Road. It would have then veered south to the Vermont Electric Power Co. right-of-way in north Salisbury. From there, it would have followed the VELCO right-of-way south to Bullock Road in Leicester, then crossed country west to the old Addison Rail Spur. It would have followed the spur west through Whiting to Richville Road in Shoreham, then proceeded west through Shoreham to just south of the Shoreham village center. The pipeline then would have proceeded west from Route 22A to Lake Champlain.
Cornwall Selectman Bruce Hiland on Thursday confirmed Cornwall’s efforts to see the VGS pipeline route adjusted. He called Cornwall’s opposition “widespread, well informed, sophisticated and organized. The Cornwall selectboard is unanimously against the proposed routing through our town.”
VGS has yet to hold an informational meeting in Cornwall, though Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said some would definitely be scheduled during the coming weeks. VGS has held several meetings in Middlebury and Shoreham. (The Independent could not directly cover a meeting in Shoreham this past Thursday evening, but we heard from some in the town who felt VGS did not give enough warning to residents. We will follow up.)
Wark noted regular meetings are now being convened by a phase II pipeline project stakeholders’ group that includes representatives of all the involved towns.
Whiting selectboard Chairman Ellen Kurrelmeyer said she and her colleagues are receptive to the concept of a pipeline into their town, with the proviso that it not pass through people’s front yards and that it provide an opportunity for natural gas hookups for municipal buildings, the local school and perhaps some homes in the village.
Asked about the prospect of adopting a Whiting route for the pipeline as this point, Wark was pessimistic.
He said such a route would add eight miles and more than $15 million to the project, extra money that he says is not in the phase II budget. And he noted that while some Whiting officials are receptive to the idea of the pipeline, the same cannot be said — at least at this point — for Leicester and Salisbury, the two other communities that would have to endorse such a route.
“The ‘southern route’ (using Whiting) adds three other communities and includes significantly more land impacts,” Wark said.
“And the challenge is that the extra $15 million does not have a home (in the budget).”
Opponents of the Cornwall route have suggested that VGS and International Paper could fund the extra $15 million. Vermont Gas would have a substantial new customer for its product while the paper mill figures to save millions annually by having access to cheaper natural gas.
Wark countered that International Paper could resort to other fuel options if it gets a sense that the pipeline project is becoming too expensive. For example, he said, the company could truck in liquefied natural gas.
“As with any infrastructure project, there has to be a balance between the need and the impacts,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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