Vt. Gas launches ‘Phase II’ of its planned Addison County pipeline
ADDISON COUNTY — As Vermont Gas Systems on Thursday formally announced plans to advance its proposed “Phase II” natural gas pipeline from Middlebury to the International Paper Co. in Ticonderoga, N.Y., officials in the two towns principally affected by the project readied for potentially rancorous talks with the gas company.
“For months now Cornwall residents have expressed broad, deep and committed opposition to Vermont Gas’ scheme to run a gas transmission pipeline through our community,” said Cornwall Selectman Bruce Hiland. “Despite Vermont Gas’ expensive PR and unceasing, self-congratulatory corporate ‘spin,’ I have not heard of a single mind changed. My impression is that opposition has grown. Our selectboard continues to work intensely with our legislators and state officials to find an appropriate solution.”
Officials from Vermont Gas anticipate filing a formal petition with the Vermont Public Service Board around Nov. 19.
In anticipation of its filing, the South Burlington company submitted advance notice to the planning commissions and selectboards of communities in which the project will be located. The letter, which serves as early notice of plans to proceed, is a step required by the state’s regulatory process. The filing outlines details of Phase II of the Addison Natural Gas Project that would flow under portions of the towns of Middlebury, Cornwall, Shoreham and Lake Champlain, before arriving at the International Paper (IP) mill in Ticonderoga.
Phase II would have to follow a Phase I project already being reviewed by the Public Service Board. That project — blasted by a majority of participants at a Sept. 10 PSB hearing in Middlebury — calls for a natural gas pipeline to be constructed from Colchester to Middlebury, beginning with the town’s Exchange Street (industrial park) area next year.
The second phase of the project would establish the infrastructure to eventually bring natural gas service to Rutland — sooner than otherwise possible, company officials say — by leveraging revenues from IP. The paper company has agreed to underwrite the costs of Phase II, a project that could save IP millions of dollars in annual fuel oil expenses.
During an interview with the Addison Independent on Thursday, Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark emphasized the impact a successful Phase II project would have on achieving Vermont Gas’ broader goal of extending natural gas service to Rutland. He reiterated that the Phase II pipeline would get natural gas 17 miles closer to Rutland, allowing it to be reached by 2020. Without the Phase II pipeline, Vermont Gas officials predict that natural gas service would not get to Rutland until 2035.
“Rutland is the key,” Wark said. He cited the Rutland region’s comparatively low median household income (10th among the state’s 14 counties) as a reason for its growing desire to tap into a cheaper fuel source.
“They are desperate for natural gas,” he said.
But the project has been sharply criticized by many Cornwall and Shoreham landowners and officials who have objected to the notion of a pipeline carrying a volatile gas bisecting their communities largely for the benefit of one large corporate user. Vermont Gas has said it would provide connections to select homeowners and businesses in the most densely populated pockets through which the pipeline would travel.
Shoreham Selectman Paul Saenger said the selectboard in his town will not get involved with individual property owners’ arguments or legal skirmishes with Vermont Gas regarding the pipeline.
“The selectboard’s focus will be to get the best possible deal for the town (if the project is ultimately permitted),” Saenger said.
If the project is green-lighted, Shoreham village would receive natural gas service and net around $130,000 annually in municipal property taxes derived from the pipeline infrastructure. Local officials have said access to natural gas could provide an economic development tool and shave $10,000 off the Shoreham school’s annual heating bill and $1,000 from the town barn’s heating bill.
Environmental groups have also assailed both phases of the project, citing the likelihood of the pipeline carrying gas released through hydraulic fracturing.
Don Gilbert, president and CEO of Vermont Gas, focused on what he considered the benefits of the project in a company press release announcing the Phase II application plans.
“Natural gas has played a key role in the economic opportunities and environmental improvements in Chittenden and Franklin counties, and it is expected to bring $200 million in energy savings to Addison County communities over the next 20 years, while reducing emissions by 300,000 tons,” Gilbert said in the press release. “These economic and environmental benefits continue to grow significantly if natural gas service is extended to Rutland. That is why many Addison and Rutland county residents, employers and community organizations have expressed their support for natural gas and the economic and environmental benefits to their communities.”
The Oct. 3 letter to stakeholders describes the project and provides information on the regulatory process and the anticipated timeline.
The letter was sent to all regional planning commissions and municipal legislative bodies in accordance with rules governing the regulatory process, according to Wark. The letter also describes the rights of the local and regional planning commissions to comment on the project plans and to participate in the Public Service Board process.
Wark acknowledged the widespread criticism of the Phase II project by citizens at recent Cornwall and Shoreham meetings. Asked if the company is prepared to face additional protests and potential litigation, he said, “Hopefully it won’t come to that.”
Wark said Vermont Gas is in close negotiations with half of the six Cornwall landowners who would be affected by the Phase II pipeline route. A total of around 30 landowners would be affected along the Phase II route, according to Wark.
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