SHOREHAM — Vermont Gas this week unveiled five potential routes for its proposed natural gas pipeline that would extend from Middlebury to Ticonderoga, N.Y., a plan that at Monday’s legislative breakfast in Shoreham continued to draw criticism from area residents who oppose the prospect of seeing the project running through their respective properties.
The 24-mile, $70 million pipeline would eventually transport natural gas under Lake Champlain to provide a more cost-effective fuel for the International Paper mill. The mill currently burns fuel oil in its paper manufacturing process. International Paper officials project the business would save millions by using cheaper natural gas, and the company has pledged to underwrite the entire cost of the pipeline if it is OK’d by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB).
The PSB is currently evaluating what Vermont Gas has designated as phase one of expansion into Addison County: A 41-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, with service to Vergennes.
So while the PSB is reviewing phase one, Vermont Gas is developing plans for the phase two expansion to the I.P. mill. Vermont Gas officials want to come up with a preferred pipeline route by late next month, a route that is likely to traverse portions of Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham. Vermont Gas officials on April 5 released five maps showing possible phase II transmission line routes. Those maps can be viewed online at addisonindependent.com or at http://addisonnaturalgas.com/documents.
All of the routes begin at Route 7 North in Middlebury and travel east and south around the village along the Green Mountain Power right-of-way at Happy Valley Road. Here is a brief description of the routes from that point:
1) Veers south to join the Vermont Electric Power Co. right-of-way in north Salisbury. Follows the VELCO right-of-way south to Bullock Road in Leicester, then crosses country west to the old Addison Rail Spur. Follows the spur west through Whiting to Richville Road in Shoreham, then proceeds west through Shoreham to just south of the Shoreham Village Center. The pipeline then proceeds west from Route 22A to Lake Champlain.
2) Veers south to Shard Villa Road where it proceeds south to the rail spur in Leicester. It follows the spur west through Whiting to just south of Richville Road in Shoreham, then proceeds to just south of Shoreham’s village center. From there it proceeds west to Lake Champlain.
3) Veers south to Three Mile Bridge Road. It then proceeds west along Three Mile Bridge Road, crossing the Otter Creek at Morse Road and goes into Cornwall. From there it heads west across Route 30 and around Cornwall village center and south to Route 74. It proceeds west along Route 74 and Doolittle Road to Lapham Bay Road in Shoreham, bypassing the village. From there it heads southwest across Riggs Road to Lake Champlain.
4) Heads south to Middle Road in Middlebury and then west across Creek Road and the Otter Creek near where South Street Extension turns toward the creek, then across country into Cornwall. It goes cross country south across Morse Road east of Cornwall village and then west across Peet Road, Slade Road, Route 30, South Bingham Street and Audet Road to Shoreham. It crosses country to Route 22A, jogs south 1.5 miles and then turns west to Lake Champlain.
5) Veers south to Three Mile Bridge Road. It then proceeds west along Three Mile Bridge Road, crossing the Otter Creek at Morse Road and goes into Cornwall. From there, it bypasses Cornwall village going west across Peet Road, Slade Road, Route 30, South Bingham Street and Audet Road to Shoreham. It then veers west across Quiet Valley Road, Route 74 and Route 22A to Lapham Bay Road. Then it heads across Riggs Road and Lake Street to Lake Champlain.
Susan Shashok is a Middlebury selectwoman and a representative to a multi-town working group that has been giving feedback to Vermont Gas’s evolving pipeline plans. Vermont Gas officials and the group met on April 5 and are scheduled to meet again on April 26 at 7:30 a.m. at the Addison County Regional Planning office in Middlebury. Shashok said Vermont Gas officials at the April 5 meeting identified options 3 and 5 as the most feasible scenarios, but stressed that no decisions had been made.
At that same meeting, Vermont Gas officials reported the pipeline could not be funneled via Route 7 through downtown Middlebury due to construction impacts. They added the VELCO power line corridor through Middlebury could also not be used, “due to environmental and infrastructure complaints.”
Once selected, the preferred route will undergo more than 90 days of detailed design work and environmental assessment, according to Vermont Gas officials. The route could be tweaked during that 90 days, as well as during a more than six-month “certificate of public good” process by the PSB.
The company has determined it would be able to provide natural gas service to Shoreham village — and perhaps the center of Cornwall — as a part of the phase two project. Vermont Gas had initially reported that I.P. would be the lone customer and that Cornwall and Shoreham would be merely pass-through communities, gaining only property tax revenues based on assessments on the new infrastructure.
But the prospect of natural gas access has done little to assuage the concerns of some Shoreham and Cornwall residents, several of whom showed up at Monday’s legislative breakfast in Shoreham.
Cornwall resident Jim Butler lives on Route 74, one of the potential routes of the pipeline. He said that ironically, he had moved to the area from New York state in order to escape large corporate projects. He criticized what he said has been a lack of communication from Vermont Gas about its project, which in turn has led to confusion on the part of people who would be potentially affected by the pipeline.
He said the stage is being set for Vermont to become a pass-through for Canadian natural gas to go to New York.
“Vermont now is seemingly willing to potentially become a conduit between Canada and New York,” Butler said. “I know everybody knows the history of Vermont here, but a long time ago there was a battle between these two entities for Vermont.”
Some Cornwall residents along Routes 30 and 74 have erected signs on their front lawns protesting the pipeline plan. At least one of those residents complained of signs being inappropriately removed from his lawn by state road crews who believed them to be in the state’s right-of-way. That right-of-way extends approximately 24.75 feet from the centerline.
While some residents have reported surprise visits by surveying crews plotting potential pipeline routes, others have been satisfied with the outreach from Vermont Gas. Shoreham resident Meg Barnes said representatives of the company contacted her family in advance to ask for permission to walk the property and map out a potential pipeline route.
“We had no problems with them,” Barnes said.
Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, said he has attended several pipeline-related meetings in recent months in an effort to understand the project. Planners must “at the very least, minimize surprise” by presenting information to people in a timely fashion, he said.
“My position at this point is to see what’s in it for us, for the town of Shoreham and for Addison County as an economic development piece, while weighing the implications of natural gas on our economy here in the county,” Stevens said. “While I am generally supportive of it, I think it’s important that we do it with our eyes wide open … We need to be positioned as individuals, as property owners and as communities to know when and where to intervene in the process.”
Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, is House majority leader. His Addison-2 district includes the town of Cornwall. He, too, has concerns about the proposed pipeline but noted the current controversy underscores the pitfalls of virtually every energy source being used in Vermont today. He specifically cited problems with the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon; the environmental impacts of hydro power projects created by Hydro-Quebec, the aesthetic concerns related to big wind projects, and opposition to some large-scale solar farms.
“We need to explore this (natural gas project) in our communities, with the gas company,” said Jewett, who added he had reinforced to Vermont Gas that if it is to proceed with the pipeline to I.P., it will have to find a way to do it that minimizes hardship and inconvenience to property owners along the route.
“I don’t know the answer to that, but I am hopeful we can find it,” Jewett said.
Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, suggested some changes in the way the PSB reviews applications that come before it. For example, he said it would be appropriate for the PSB to have a member or staffer serve as a liaison to communities affected by specific applications. This would lift some of the burden on small communities that now have to spend money to hire lawyers or experts to represent their interests during project reviews, Bray reasoned.
Weybridge resident Spence Putnam noted concerns about the proposed pipeline aren’t limited to where the infrastructure would be placed. He added his voice to those who fear that the extension of natural gas could delay the state’s transition to renewable energy.
“There are undoubted benefits from an economic point of view and probably from an environmental point of view, but these are short term,” Putnam said. “I really hope the Legislature keeps an eye on this process to make sure it doesn’t slow down our drive to alternative energy. This is a short-term bridge or fix, but we need to keep our eyes focused on getting away from fossil fuels.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]