Landowners worry about impact of pipeline on Lake Champlain

BRIDPORT — While a good deal of conversation at the Legislative Breakfast at the Bridport Grange Hall on Monday centered on a proposed Shoreland Protection Bill and the health of Vermont’s lakes (see story), some participants at the breakfast said Lake Champlain’s health is not only being affected by shorelands development.
They said the lake could be irreversibly tainted by a leak in a proposed natural gas pipeline that would be drilled under the lake.
The pipeline is being pitched by Vermont Gas Systems as part of a $70 million project that would deliver natural gas from Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The project is currently being reviewed by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), which is hearing a lot of opposition from residents in the communities that the pipeline would traverse: Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham. The International Paper pipeline represents the second phase of Vermont Gas’s Addison-Rutland natural gas project. The PSB has already awarded a Certificate of Public Good to Vermont Gas to extend its pipeline (carrying Canadian natural gas) from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes.
Middlebury resident Margaret Klohck on Monday expressed her fears of a pipeline rupture beneath Lake Champlain.
“We are going to kiss our lake goodbye,” she said of the consequences of such a disaster. “It will be compromised by these chemicals. I hate to sound like a fear monger, but this is very serious.”
Addison resident John Ball was candid in his displeasure with the PSB’s approval of the Phase I pipeline project.
“I suggest the PSB change its name to the ‘Corporate Service Board,’” he said.
William Fifield of Middlebury, said he, too, was concerned.
“I can’t imagine why (the PSB) thinks this is in the public good,” he said, noting that Vermont Gas is owned by the Canadian company Gaz Métro and that most of the natural gas benefits of the Phase II pipeline would go to a single corporate entity, International Paper.
“I’m asking the folks in the Legislature if there is anything we can do (about the Phase II pipeline)?” Fifield said.
Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, said he was scheduled to meet with Vermont Public Service Department officials on Tuesday, Feb. 4, to discuss the pipeline.
“Safety is paramount,” said Jewett, who voiced concern that the PSB review process seems to be “titled toward approval” of projects.
He added the PSB will be balancing the potential negatives of the project with possible benefits — including estimates that Addison County businesses and homeowners stand to save substantial amounts of money on their annual heating bills. Jewett said the prospect of International Paper fueling its boilers with natural gas instead of tire scraps (as the company sought to do a decade ago) is being greeted by some as an environmental plus.
Sen. Chris Bray said natural gas should be seen as a transition to more renewable energy being used in Vermont. He also advocated for natural gas filling stations for heavy vehicles as a way of reducing carbon emissions.
“When we look at renewables, we don’t have the capacity to throw a switch to go from (fossil fuels to green energy),” the New Haven Democrat said. “Natural gas is a useful fuel as long as we make sure it stays a transition fuel.”

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