Survey says: Majority in Cornwall oppose pipeline

CORNWALL — A big majority of Cornwall residents are opposed to Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed “Phase II” project that would extend a natural gas pipeline from Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., according to the results of a townwide survey recently circulated by the town’s selectboard.
The survey, sent out to Cornwall’s approximately 500 households, asked residents if:
• They favor the proposed natural gas pipeline, which would be buried through portions of Middlebury, Cornwall, Shoreham, and under Lake Champlain, before arriving at the IP mill. International Paper wants to remove fuel oil from the mill’s energy portfolio and replace it with less costly natural gas to power its boilers.
•  They oppose the pipeline, with the understanding that the selectboard might need to spend $20,000 to $60,000 to fight the $70 million project, which is now being reviewed by the Vermont Public Service Board. The PSB has already awarded a certificate of public good to Vermont Gas’s “Phase I” pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes.
Cornwall Town Clerk Sue Johnson reported last week that 296 households had returned the informal survey, an impressive response rate of 61 percent. Of those responses, 212 were opposed to the pipeline, while 71 were in favor. Twelve returned surveys bearing “miscellaneous” answers that are still being interpreted, she said.
“We are very happy with the rate of return,” Cornwall selectboard Vice Chairwoman Judy Watts said. “It confirmed what we had heard in the opinions expressed to the selectboard.
“I think we’ve gotten a good sample of households.”
Cornwall officials several months ago took a position against the pipeline proposal based on information supplied by Vermont Gas and on pointed testimony delivered by many local residents at a series of public meetings. Cornwall’s concerns have been based, in part, on the cloistered manner in which Vermont Gas devised its pipeline route; the notion that some of the Canadian natural gas to be carried through the pipeline will have been derived through hydraulic fracturing; property rights issues; and the proximity of the pipeline and its volatile cargo to residential areas.
Owners of five of the six Cornwall properties through which the pipeline would traverse have declined the company access to their lands.
Vermont Gas has promised to provide natural gas service to around 70 buildings along the Route 30 corridor north from the village center. The company has assigned an estimated value of $12 million on the pipeline infrastructure it would place in Cornwall. That would generate a property tax payment of $207,000 to Cornwall in year one, a payment that would decline during ensuing years as the pipeline depreciates. But selectboard members note that based on state education tax laws, almost 80 percent of the property tax revenues that Cornwall would receive through the project would be paid into the Vermont Education Fund. So Cornwall would net $43,000 during the first year of the pipeline, a sum that would decline annually with depreciation.
“The selectboard believes that, if built, the proposed pipeline will deliver continuing financial benefits to International Paper and Vermont Gas, and the town of Cornwall should benefit based on the pipeline’s business value, and thus the revenues to the town should be substantially higher,” reads a letter from the board that accompanied the pipeline survey. “The selectboard is considering legal action in the Public Service Board proceeding to address this and other issues, including whether the International Paper pipeline should be built at all.”
Legal action, selectboard members said, could cost $20,000 to $60,000 “depending on the number of experts and the complexity of issues involved.”
Cornwall resident will soon get a chance to make a second statement on how they feel about the pipeline proposal. Article 2 on Cornwall’s March 3 town meeting warning asks, “In order to get a sense of the town, are the voters in favor of the construction of a Phase II of the ‘Addison Natural Gas Project?’”
“We will have, I think, two good indications of how the people feel about (the project),” Watts said.
Residents will have an opportunity to express their feelings about the project on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the town hall. That’s when Louise Porter, attorney representing the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS), will be on hand to receive feedback. The DPS represents Vermonters’ interests in matters relating to energy, telecommunications, water and wastewater.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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