Vermont Gas files papers for pipeline through Cornwall, Shoreham
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gas Systems on Tuesday officially filed a petition with the state’s Public Service Board (PSB) to launch its proposed “Phase II” natural gas pipeline project from Middlebury to the International Paper Co. mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., an action that sets the stage for what promises to be months of debate on the controversial plan.
The Phase II plan has already elicited a lot of feedback — much of it negative — from residents along the 23.9-mile pipeline route that would pass from Middlebury through Cornwall and Shoreham, then under Lake Champlain, before reaching its primary destination: International Paper, which would underwrite the $65 million costs of the project. Vermont Gas officials want the Phase II pipeline to follow quickly on the heels of its Phase I pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury that would deliver natural gas to homeowners and businesses in Addison County’s shire town as well as Vergennes and small pockets of users in other communities along the route. Hundreds of Vermonters protested the Phase I pipeline project at a PSB public hearing held in Middlebury on Sept. 10.
The PSB is currently evaluating the Phase I plan and could issue its decision sometime next month, according to Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark. Now the PSB will have a second pipeline application to consider, a review that Wark believes could produce a decision by next summer.
“We’ve spent almost a year on an Addison County route that maximizes the value for Vermonters,” Wark said of the Phase II pipeline.
“And it gets us to Rutland 15 years sooner,” he added, explaining that International Paper’s payout for Phase II will cover $45 million of the expense to bring natural gas to Rutland. Without that revenue, current and future Vermont Gas customers would shoulder that $45 million burden in order to get to Rutland by 2020, according to Wark.
Indeed Vermont Gas has played up the Rutland County angle to its Phase II plan during recent months. Until recently it called the project the “Addison Natural Gas Project,” and it is now referring to it as the “Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project.”
The South Burlington company earlier this week announced a “bi-partisan statement of support” for the pipeline that is signed by Rutland County’s legislative delegation and was sent to the Public Service Board as part of Vermont Gas’s petition. The 18-member delegation provided its “unanimous and full support” for the project as a means of extending natural gas to Rutland County as an economic development tool and energy cost-saver. Vermont Gas cites current energy pricing showing natural gas to be more than 40-percent less costly than fuel oil and more than 50-percent cheaper than propane.
“We need jobs for Rutland, and natural gas can help to create and retain them,” reads the Rutland delegation’s letter. “Companies looking to relocate to this area ask about natural gas availability. The lack of availability continues to be a reason for employers to locate elsewhere.”
The letter also speaks of potential major fuel savings for Rutland Regional Medical Center, Rutland schools and homeowners.
While the proposed pipeline has an abundance of supporters in Rutland County, it has received a steady stream of criticism at public meetings in Addison County. Residents here have opposed the project for environmental, property rights and public safety reasons. Opposition has been particularly vocal in Cornwall, where residents have posted anti-pipeline signs and have promised to fight the matter in court, if necessary. A substantial majority of the affected Cornwall landowners confirmed earlier this month that they will not willingly grant easements for the pipeline to be buried on their property. An impasse in negotiations could set the stage for eminent domain proceedings
“I’m horrified by this process,” said Mary Martin, one of the affected Cornwall landowners.
She alluded to previous comments by Vermont Gas officials indicating the company did not want to place infrastructure where it was not wanted. Martin said the company is proceeding with its application in spite of Cornwall’s rejection of the project.
“I don’t feel like (Vermont Gas) is listening,” Martin said.
Cornwall Selectman Bruce Hiland echoed Martin’s sentiments.
“We regret that Vermont Gas continues its effort to force a high-pressure gas transmission line through our small community to benefit an out-of-state industrial customer and their own balance sheet and we continue to be surprised and disappointed by their unresponsiveness to concerns expressed by Cornwall residents over this past year,” Hiland said.
Wark said the company has tried to make its Cornwall route more palatable to local residents by directing it over fields (as opposed to near main roads) and trying to tailor it to the community’s town plan.
“It is our hope that given time for reflection on the benefits of the project, that folks in Cornwall will appreciate the help we are trying to provide the state, and Rutland County in particular,” Wark said.
Phase II project benefits for Addison County, according to Wark, include: The pipeline infrastructure would net Cornwall and Shoreham a combined total of $23 million in school and municipal property tax revenue over the first 25 years; it would provide natural gas hookups for a total of 160 Cornwall and Shoreham property owners; and that the project would generate 174 jobs valued at $9.8 million in salaries during peak construction.
Shoreham Selectman Paul Saenger was not surprised by Tuesday’s PSB filing by Vermont Gas.
“We are putting together a schedule for the whole (PSB review) process,” Saenger said.
The Shoreham board will not become involved in any legal actions that local residents might initiate during the proceedings, according to Saenger.
Meanwhile, International Paper officials were pleased to hear that Phase II had entered the PSB’s review pipeline. The company is banking on natural gas to save millions in fuel expenses and reduce its carbon emissions by 1 million tons over 20 years, according to Vermont Gas.
Donna Wadsworth, spokeswoman for International Paper, said the company has already determined the project would make sound business sense. International Paper is now determining the logistics of preparing mill equipment to receive and burn natural gas. If Phase II is approved, the company would order and install the necessary devices to use natural gas, a conversion estimated at more than $11 million, according to Wadsworth.
“We look forward to discussions and following the (Phase II application) process,” Wadsworth said.
“We very much want to be a customer.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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