Community Forum: Senators urge support for Phase II of Vt. Gas pipeline

This week’s writers are State Sens. Kevin Mullin and Peg Flory, both of whom are Republicans representing Rutland County.
The Vermont way is for neighbors to help neighbors and communities to come together to solve challenges. Energy infrastructure, like natural gas service, is one of the most important areas for Vermonters to collaborate.  
The Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project will provide Rutland County the economic and environmental benefits of cleaner, more affordable natural gas for heating that Chittenden and Franklin (and soon Addison) counties enjoy. The expansion of natural gas is a “must have” for our county. 
To ensure the public interest is served, Vermont has a robust public process that requires regulators evaluate every project and balance disadvantages and inconveniences of infrastructure improvements.
In this case, negotiating with landowners for a pipe that will be buried underground is necessary for the greater public good. Though uncomfortable, the process can include eminent domain proceedings when these negotiations reach impasse.  Very clear laws that balance landowner rights with the broader public interest govern this process. Without these tools, we wouldn’t have public roads, interstate highways, or universal electric service — and other important economic infrastructure.
Recently, Addison County Sen. Chris Bray expressed his opposition to the second phase of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project. Phase 2 extends natural gas from Middlebury to Cornwall and Shoreham, and deep below Lake Champlain (up to 30 feet below the bottom of the lake) to the paper mill in Ticonderoga, where the regional benefits expand exponentially. 
We think it’s important for Vermonters to understand that Phase Two reduces regional emissions by 1 million tons, provides much-needed tax revenues to towns, and lowers energy costs and provides energy-efficiency programs to additional residents. It also reduces the time to bring natural gas to Rutland by 15 years, and the cost of that effort by $45 million.
The mill spends more than $3 million on goods and services provided by Vermont businesses, $2.5 million for wood and fiber, and over $1 million in wages and benefits paid to Vermonters working there. Delivering cleaner, lower-cost fuel to the mill also improves regional air quality.
Curiously, Sen. Bray supported the first phase, which has been approved by regulators and is now under construction. It will deliver natural gas to about 4,000 Addison County residents and dozens of the county’s employers, including Cabot, Country Home Products, General Dynamics, Vermont Coffee Co. Cabot alone expects to save as much as $3 million per year.
In November, Bray said, “Many Vermont homeowners and small businesses are still struggling in this economy, so when Vermont Gas started talking about the advantages –— lower prices, reduced emissions, great energy-efficiency programs — we started talking about how we could expand the program and deliver an even broader public benefit. This is a great example, Vermont style, of business and community leaders coming together to forge a solution that helps everyone.”
What happened to the commitment to help everyone?
With Phase 2, Cornwall and Shoreham would gain access to a more affordable heating option in the village centers, displacing dirtier and more expensive propane and oil. They could invest tax revenue generated by the infrastructure in schools or other services. That’s why Shoreham recently reached an agreement with Vermont Gas on the project. 
On the other hand, Cornwall — where federal data indicates the median household income is nearly twice the median household income in Rutland ($69,000 vs. $37,000) and where the median value of housing is $385,000 vs. $166,000 — continues to oppose helping its neighbors.
There are six landowners in Cornwall who would host the underground natural gas transmission line, four feet below their rural fields. No landowner, anywhere along the project corridor, is required to give up ownership rights; all can choose to be compensated above market value for an easement.
Vermont’s regulators have taken an important first step in approving natural gas service to Addison County’s most densely populated communities and economic centers. 
Given that natural gas will help homeowners and businesses in Addison and Rutland counties cut heating bills by about 50 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we hope every elected official will join us in encouraging the Public Service Board to support Phase 2, and the significant public good, of this entire project.

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