Vermont Gas prepares for Phase III of its pipeline through county
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gas officials are reaching out to Salisbury and Leicester officials to begin a public information campaign about its “Phase III” pipeline project that could deliver natural gas to Rutland County as soon as 2020.
Vermont Gas on Monday confirmed three upcoming Rutland County-based “open houses” to discuss the natural gas pipeline segment it hopes to install between Middlebury and Rutland. One of those gatherings will be held in Brandon on Thursday, May 8, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Otter Valley Union High School. The open houses will feature a series of informational displays at which attendees will be able to learn about the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project and speak one-on-one with Vermont Gas officials about potential fuel savings and other related topics.
While Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said the company has not mapped out a route for the Phase III project — tentatively estimated to cost between $130 million and $160 million — the Addison County towns of Salisbury and Leicester figure to be affected by the plan. With that in mind, Vermont Gas wants to begin making contact with officials and residents in those two towns to begin a dialogue.
“We feel now is the appropriate time to start work on Phase III, in terms of community engagement and route planning,” Wark said. “This will take the better part of a year to two years. The goal is to work with communities, both in southern Addison County and Rutland County, to provide information, answer questions, dispel myths and provide people with an opportunity to help us design a route that will meet the majority needs of local communities and the project.”
Company officials met with the Salisbury selectboard on Tuesday, April 22, to “set up logistics for public input,” town Selectman Tom Scanlon said.
It was around a year ago, according to Scanlon, that Vermont Gas officials first approached Salisbury with word of a Phase III project.
“As a selectboard, it’s safe to say we are looking at how (the pipeline) could be done with the least amount of impact to our citizens,” Scanlon said, speaking as an individual board member. “We want to ensure that the citizens of Salisbury are heard and that Vermont Gas understands their concerns and desires as it relates to the natural gas pipeline to Rutland.”
Scanlon noted the Vermont Electric Power Co. right-of-way already runs north-south through Salisbury, a route he said might make the most sense for a pipeline project if it has to go through the town.
Vermont Gas has received a lot of public feedback on both its Phase I and Phase II pipeline proposals. The Vermont Public Service Board has already granted a certificate of public good to the Phase I project, involving a 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Vergennes and Middlebury. The PSB is currently reviewing the company’s Phase II plan, calling for a pipeline extension from Middlebury, through Cornwall and Shoreham, under Lake Champlain, to the International Paper Co. mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. International Paper would underwrite the more than $70 million cost of the project, producing savings (and subsequent revenues) that Vermont Gas officials said would allow them to expedite the Phase III project. Original plans called for natural gas service for Rutland by 2035. But the Phase II project, according to Wark, would generate $45 million to allow for the Phase III pipeline to be built to Rutland by 2020.
Vermont Gas officials have been touting environmental and financial benefits of natural gas versus other fossil fuels. They note that natural gas currently is half the price of fuel oil and propane. Wark said Phases I, II and III would collectively save consumers in Addison and Rutland counties around $750 million over 20 years.
But opponents of the natural gas pipeline have cited potential safety, property rights and environmental concerns. Cornwall and Shoreham voters this past Town Meeting Day passed resolutions opposing the Phase II pipeline. The Addison County Regional Planning Commission earlier this month voted by a close 15-11 margin that the Phase II project could pass muster with the county’s regional plan. The majority included a “yes” vote cast by an Otter Creek Audubon Society delegate who had been instructed by his organization to vote “no.”
As with Phases I and II, Vermont Gas officials will offer to provide natural gas service to town/school buildings and more densely populated areas of the towns that the Phase III pipeline would traverse, according to Wark.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge when we are dealing with very rural communities with small populations,” Wark said. “That’s one of the reasons to reach out early — to get a good sense of the potential in each of these communities for (natural gas) distribution. This is not simply a transmission project; this is a service project.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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