Phase II pipeline clears Addison regional planning commission hurdle

Editor’s note: This article is by John Flowers of the Addison Independent, in which it was first published April 14, 2014.

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) board on Wednesday voted 15-11 that the proposed natural gas pipeline from Middlebury to Ticonderoga, N.Y., can pass muster with the county’s regional plan. That decision will be passed along to the Vermont Public Service Board to consider as it determines whether to green-light the controversial project being advanced by Vermont Gas.

AN SIGN STANDS in the yard of Jane and Nathan Palmer of Monkton, who are fighting to keep a natural gas pipeline from being built on their property. Independent photo/Zach Despart
A sign stands in the yard of Jane and Nathan Palmer of Monkton, who are fighting to keep a natural gas pipeline from being built on their property. Independent photo/Zach Despart

Wednesday’s vote came after two hours of impassioned comments, many of them delivered by Cornwall and Shoreham residents who on Town Meeting Day passed resolutions against the so-called “Phase II” Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project pipeline that would feed the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga. The vote also came after negative recommendations from the ACRPC’s own Energy and Act 250/Act 248 Committees.

But in the end, the proposed pipeline got enough support from board members who said the pipeline should be supported for its potential to bring economic benefit to the greater region that includes Rutland County to the south and Essex County, N.Y., on the other side of Lake Champlain. Supporters also cited the heating fuel savings the pipeline could bring to the small pockets of Addison County residents that would have the opportunity to patch in.

New Yorkers weigh in

A delegation of Essex County, N.Y., officials turned out at Wednesday’s meeting to encourage the ACRPC board to delay its vote on the Phase II pipeline pending a presentation from civic and business leaders from such towns as Moriah, Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Essex. Some of those officials urged the ACRPC board to give a favorable recommendation on Phase II in the same spirit of collaboration that existed between the two states as when the Lake Champlain Bridge was out of commission from 2009 to 2011.

Ticonderoga Supervisor Bill Grinnell introduced the New York delegation and argued that denying the proposed pipeline could place International Paper in a precarious financial predicament. The company now relies heavily on No. 6 fuel oil to power its boilers. Natural gas is currently more than 50 percent less costly than fuel oil and propane. Grinnell said access to natural gas would strengthen IP and its more than 600 jobs, including landowners, truckers and loggers in Vermont.

“I don’t think anyone in this room can deny the economic impact that International Paper has on our entire region,” Grinnell said. “I don’t think anyone from an environmental point of view can vote to deny this project when you look at the benefits it will have … It is so much better than any alternative offered, I see no logic in not letting it happen. It’s to the benefit of everyone — not just economically, but environmentally.”

Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava warned of the repercussions to his area if IP shuts down.

“Although (the pipeline) does affect Vermont, it also has a huge impact on our communities,” Scozzafava said. “If International Paper closes that mill … we’re going to lose 600 jobs. Southern Essex County would become a ghost town.”

Addison County residents express concern

But several Addison County residents at Wednesday’s meeting reiterated their concerns about the project based on environmental and property-rights concerns. And since the Phase II project would involve a large transmission line (and not a distribution line), many Addison County residents along the route will not be able to tap into the natural gas on its way to IP.

Orwell resident Norton Latourelle suggested IP should instead solve its energy problems by moving to renewables like hydroelectricity and/or trucking in natural gas. He also urged New York state officials to recognize the hardships that the Phase II pipeline might place on Vermont communities.

“I agree totally with Bill (Grinnell) that we should all try to help Ticonderoga and the mill,” Latourelle said. “I would ask Bill and all of the other supervisors on the other side of the lake to extend the same helping hand to Shoreham and Cornwall, who have voted overwhelmingly that they don’t believe an industrial corridor running through Cornwall and the northern side of Shoreham is a good idea.”

Shoreham resident Dale Birdsall called the pipeline proposal shortsighted.

“A few people will benefit by saving some money on their heating bills, and it will be nice for those people,” Birdsall said. “But the problem is not going to be now.”

He said problems will occur around 25 years down the road when the pipeline begins to age.

“I think we are jeopardizing Lake Champlain if we approve this, and I just don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.

Birdsall said the primary beneficiaries of the pipeline would be Vermont Gas, a subsidiary of Gaz-Métro, a Canadian-owned company, and IP, a New York-based company that he noted a decade ago proposed burning tires as an alternative fuel source against the wishes of Vermont residents.

“There was no cooperation (between New York and Vermont),” Birdsall said in harkening back to the tire-burning plan.

Middlebury resident Margaret Klohck voiced concerns about the potential damage a ruptured natural gas pipeline could do to Lake Champlain. Plans call for the Phase II pipeline to be drilled under the lake.

“How can anybody justify putting that (pipeline) under Lake Champlain?” Klohck said. “The least leak that you’re going to get is going to devastate the lake, in both states. I don’t see how Vermont takes all the risks to help New York; I would rather have New York take on its own issue and put it on the New York side.”

Middlebury resident Jason Kaye also spoke against the Phase II pipeline. He quoted from the Public Service Board’s approval of the Phase I pipeline (from Colchester to Middlebury), which states that the two projects can proceed independently of one another. Vermont Gas has said that it is counting on Phase II to save its ratepayers $45 million in costs for eventually extending natural gas service to Rutland by 2020.

Board members speak out

ACRPC board members listened intently to the audience before voicing their own views about a project that they have been studying for more than a year. As the 15-11 vote indicates, the commissioners were evenly divided in their views about the Phase II pipeline plan.

The commission’s Energy Committee, by a 4-1 margin, had voted to send the message to the full board that the Phase II pipeline proposal does not comply with the energy section of the Addison County Regional Plan. That energy plan states, among other things, that “energy infrastructure and services do not cause undue adverse impact to the health and safety of residents or on the environmental quality of the Addison region.”

The energy plan also cites as a goal to have “no large-scale energy generation or transmission facilities, which have as their primary purpose providing energy to markets outside the Addison region, to be constructed or expanded in the region.”

“Enough of us felt we could simply not recommend approving the application because it would take a herculean effort of logical contortions to say the application is consistent with that section,” ACRPC board member and Energy Committee member Jeremy Grip of Ripton said.

Middlebury ACRPC board member Ross Conrad, also part of the Energy Committee, said he was concerned it might send a bad message to the public and regulators if the commission made a recommendation on the Phase II project that was in conflict with provisions of the Addison County Regional Plan.

“I would hate to see a situation where our testimony is seen as unreliable … ,” Conrad said. “If I’m not standing behind the plan, tell me what on Earth am I supposed to stand for?”

The Act 250/248 Committee also voted against Phase II (by a 6-4 margin), while the Natural Resources Committee unanimously agreed that the project would comply with the natural resources section of the Addison County Regional Plan.

But a majority of commissioners said they believed they could reconcile the pipeline project with the regional plan.

“I think some of what we have to think about tonight is whether you consider our New York neighbors or our Rutland neighbors as being outside of our region,” said Ellen Kurrelmeyer, the ACRPC delegate from Whiting. “We all have little berms at the county lines where economics don’t flow past our line, where people don’t flow or energy doesn’t flow. I consider the other side of the lake and all around us part of the Addison region. I think if you take the tiny, narrow view that we should build the Great Wall of China around Addison County, you’re probably not going to like this project. But I just don’t see how we don’t interact and fit in with everyone else, and I think we have to look at it that way.”

Garland “Chico” Martin, a delegate from Bristol, agreed.

“I think there is an undercurrent when economic development is cast as detrimental or inconsequential,” said Martin, who also asked those criticizing fossil fuels why they were driving cars.

“To keep the state in some kind of ethereal impracticality, as if preserving a view unobstructed by any sign of economic development… is not sensible.”

Vergennes City Manager and ACRPC Delegate Mel Hawley said it would be contradictory for the commission to have endorsed the Phase I pipeline project from Colchester to Middlebury, but not Phase II.

“I think it’s like contradicting ourselves to say it’s OK to bring natural gas to Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol, but it’s not OK for that same natural gas to continue through a similar-sized pipe into another area,” Hawley said. “It just seems like this became a very self-serving policy: We can bring natural gas to us, but we can’t let it flow through to benefit others.”

In somewhat of an unusual move, the commission asked its executive director, Adam Lougee, to weigh in.

“I think we need to read this project globally,” Lougee said.

He argued that while the regional plan opposes large-scale energy projects that would cause an undue, adverse impact on the region, he said people should not assume that the Phase II project would do that.

“I think that largely (the pipeline impacts) can be mitigated, and I do see benefits to this project,” Lougee said. “I do believe we have an obligation to look at our neighboring regions, both New York and Rutland… This is an economic development project. There’s a lot at stake here.”

Vermont Gas reacts

Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark said on Thursday he was pleased with the ACRPC’s vote.

“The vote in support of Phase II of the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project is an endorsement that recognizes the economic and environmental value that natural gas service can bring to Vermont and the Ticonderoga paper mill,” Wark said. “We will continue to work with the regional planning commission as we now enter into the formal regulatory process with the PSB.”

Asked to comment on the narrow 15-11 tally, Wark replied, “A ‘yes’ is a ‘yes,’ and we believe that the more people learned about Phase II, support emerged. Keep in mind there were other delegates that were absent — had they been present the margin would certainly have changed.”

The ACRPC roster revealed delegates from Addison, Ferrisburgh, Lincoln and Orwell were absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

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  • Wayne Andrews

    Keep the project moving.

  • Philip Beliveau

    Easy for you to say Wayne with no skin in the game. Do you have stock in Gaz Metro or International Paper? Maybe just a global warming denier? Wait till the drilling under the lake stirs up all the pollution IP has dumped in the lake. That should do wonders for water quality and tourism. Maybe they could have a special category in the fishing derby for defective fish!

  • Wayne Andrews

    Yes I do have skin in the game. I see Vermont dying on the vine with individuals such as you crying wolf about every project slated to come into Vermont. Ours jobs are limited, young leaving the area, no one to join small town fire and rescue, lacking revenues and sky high taxes leaving the remainder of us to pay. Maybe you and A.S. are trust fund babies but the rest of us have to work for a loving.
    Whats wrong with a small per/gallon fee paid by IP to help clean up Champlain?

    • Mary Martin

      Do your homework, Wayne. In the mid to late 70’s, it was determined best to leave the sludge bed alone for fear of further environmental poisoning. There is no way a small fee per gallon will ever clean up that toxic dump.

    • Jane Palmer

      Wayne, Perhaps what you see as Vermont “dying on the vine” is the result of something besides people trying to protect our environment. I don’t see the withering you describe. Think about it. Vermont’s environment is it’s BIGGEST asset. If you want heavy industry, you can go somewhere else. We do not need to make Vermont just like everywhere else. Yes, you will have young people leaving for better/different opportunities elsewhere…but some will come back because Vermont has things to offer you really can’t get anywhere else.

      Our property tax issue is a whole other subject. I agree there is a problem but I don’t think it is because Vermont is protective of it’s natural resources and I don’t want to discuss that in this venue.

      We do not have a trust fund. Our greatest asset is our farm..our land and our home. Vermont Gas wants to take a huge bite out of it (literally and financially) and you say “keep the project moving”.
      Our democracy depends on the checks and balances…we need people to moderate those who would totally exploit the rest of us. Vermont Gas has gone too far, and I think you will see in the not too distant future, it will come around to bite them in the ass.
      Building this expensive, environmentally destructive fossil fuel infrastructure just does not make sense to any entities except VT Gas , IP and a few large thermal users that are doing just fine now, by the way. ( Have you seen Exchange Street in Middlebury lately?)

      The real issue here is that Gaz Metro needs to get their pipe system hooked up to the US grid and Vermont and Addison County are in the way. Don’t think for a minute that this is going to help Vermont or Vermonters because it isn’t designed to do that.

      And Wayne, thanks for your comments…you inspire me to keep fighting against something I know to be a giant mistake for our state.

  • Jane Palmer

    The ACRPC has demonstrated that they are unable to enforce the plan that has been voted and accepted. This is a vote of no confidence in the plan.
    I find it so discouraging that so many of our commissioners are willing to sacrifice Vermonter’s property, health and safety as well as the environmental quality of our region to “help out” International Paper. IP is a MULTI BILLION dollar corporation and they make decisions based on their bottom line. When a plant is no longer profitable, it is closed…and to hell with the workers or those that depend on the income from it. This is what happened at an IP plant in Maine and many others across the world. It could still happen in Ti. This is a VERY EXPENSIVE project and the numbers just don’t work…even with IP in the mix.

  • Wayne Andrews

    Sorry, we need these projects in Vermont.

  • Bobbie Carnwath

    It is important to note the disconnect between paragraphs one and three in Mr. Flowers accurate reporting on the vote. The motion concerned compliance with the previously voted-upon Plan, the voters that night, misguided by their Executive Director, were instead focusing on immediate economic benefits, disregarding their Plans clearly stated long-term energy goals. The message coming out of that room on Wednesday night seems to be that in Addison County, like in most of the rest of the country, Corporations (in this case TWO huge multi-national corporations) with their deep pockets get their way in spite of a roomful of local citizens concerns about serious environmental impact.

    • Steven Farnham

      Hello, Bobbie.

      Read your April 8 commentary at Vermont Digger, agreed with it, and wished you luck. Sorry things didn’t go well. This is (yet another) sad day in Vermont history.

  • Renee McGuinness

    Wayne Andrews, I work for a living, too. Vermont is not “dying on the vine.” Vermont has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation, as well as the lowest unemployment rate in New England:

    Many of the jobs created during our economic recovery have been in the business and professional sector, per the state’s economist Jeffrey Carr.

    “‘I think we need to read this project globally,’ Lougee said.” If Mr. Lougee believes his own words, he would research the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. I doubt he could draw the conclusion that the extraction process for fossil fuels has no undue adverse impacts.

    IMB keeps laying off large masses of employees, and they have natural gas. Obviously Natural gas is not the Holy Grail of economic prosperity. It is pure poppycock that natural gas will help retain jobs and create new jobs. Again, Vermont has very little natural gas infrastructure, yet they have the forth lowest unemployment rate. States with the most dense natural gas infrastructure have some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Addison County is better off economically than Franklin County despite Franklin County’s access to natural gas.

    In response to Garland “Chico” Martin’s comments: yes, we still drive cars. Meanwhile we should be moving away from fossil fuel use, not building new infrastructure to continue fossil fuel use.

  • Alex Prolman

    I can’t believe ACRPC came to this conclusion, after two of their committees found the pipeline doesn’t mesh with the desired regional development plan on independent merits.

    It’s like a spell has been cast over our decision-makers to do anything Gaz Metro asks for. I can’t explain this to myself in any other way.

    Since our leaders find fossil fuel companies’ misleading rhetoric so intoxicating, the people need to stand up and prevent all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Everywhere. It’s the only responsible path forward.

  • Renee McGuinness

    Wayne Andrews: Vermont is not “dying on the vine.” Vermont has the forth lowest unemployment rate in the nation and has the lowest unemployment rate in New England.
    Much of the state’s economic recovery has been in the business, medical, and professional sector, according to state economist Jeffrey Carr.

    States with the most dense natural gas infrastructure have some of the highest unemployment rates. IMB keeps laying-off masses of employees even though they have natural gas service. Addison County is better off economically than Franklin County even though Franklin County has natural gas service. Obviously natural gas is not the Holy Grail of economic prosperity. It is pure poppycock that natural gas service will help retain jobs and create new jobs.

    Mr. Lougee states that we need to read this project globally. I suggest he research the global impacts of the fossil fuel extraction process and then reconsider his statement that Phase II will have no undue adverse impacts.

    Yes, Garland “Chico” Martin, we still drive cars. Meanwhile we should be moving away from fossil fuel use, not building new infrastructure to continue fossil fuel use.

  • Maren Vasatka

    Don Gilbert already stated that if Vermont Gas doesn’t get gas service to IP they will get it from somewhere else. That’s seems like a solution to me, let them get it from the New York side. Solves a lot of problems.

    IP isn’t in any peril without this gas, they have other options. At Donna Wadsworth admission at last months ACRPC Act 248/250 meeting, 16 Vermonters work for the mill. Well over 100 New Yorkers work for UTC Aerospace alone, not to mention Porter hospital and lots of other area employers, in fact according to the Dept of Labor 2011 data 8841 New Yorkers work in Vermont so IP is only .18% of that number. In fact 40% more New Yorkers take Vermont jobs than vise versa. Amazing our little state offers that much to New York and now they want our land too!!?!?!? What’s next?

    As for the loggers and their land, most of them will tell you that they can make more money selling their wares in Vermont for wood pellets because that demand is increasing and IP pays the lowest amount per log foot.

    No wonder those New York delegates showed up in mass they have a lot more to lose yet they aren’t willing to carry the burden or the risk.

    Drive through Moriah, Port Henry area and see what New York has done to their own state, an abandoned mine still remains, they don’t take care of or clean up their own state now the ACRPC is going to let them to that to us? Just a few years down the road they could abandoned the pipeline like they do everything else and we are left holding the pipe. Really? Does this make sense to anyone?

    Adam Lougee said it’s all about the money. So then according to Adam Vermont is for sale.

    According to NBC and ABC on average per year in Natural Gas incidents cost us nationally 130 million dollars in property damage and 17 lives. ACRPC has put our property and our lives at risk. Accidents happen, and without a pipe there is no chance of an accident.

    Vermont used to have empowered people that actually cared for and watched over our people and our state. Too bad that’s a thing of the past.

    May be time for this middle aged couple to move on out of Vermont.

  • Wayne Andrews

    4th lowest unemployment rate because we are all grey haired senior citizens not in search of a job.

    • Maren Vasatka

      Wayne, if more Vermonters need jobs perhaps we should look at some of the 8841 New Yorkers that are employed in Vermont according to the Dept. of Labor 2011 census. Look at the numbers, that is 1.4% of our population!!

  • Walter Cooper

    Vermont’s demographics are indeed eye-popping. The state is old, and most of the state’s private wealth is in the hands of its older retired or near-retirement population. Their wealth is notoriously hard to tax. So VT hits it thinner 25-50 yr old population very, very hard for revenue.

    No place in the country is currently, or has EVER, lost school-age population as fast as we are now. Just this year several more professional families with kids have packed up and left my town.

    Our low unemployment rate is an illusion–it’s mainly because the pool of job seekers is shrinking faster than the pool of available jobs.

    Where are demographics go, our public finances will likely follow.

  • Angela Bennett

    Congratulations Vermonters! You just let International Paper screw you…again. (Do you know WHY I say “again?”)

  • Wayne Andrews

    Mr. Cooper: You offer a fresh true opinion as to what is going on in Vermont. In my town we cannot get anyone to serve on local boards or become a fire department member. These positions were usually filled by those working in the forest or nearby factories and not individuals moving into town for a few years and becoming isolationists.
    e have lost the meaning of being true neighbors and joining in a collective effort. Instead the outsiders preach the NIMBY doctrine and worry more about salt killing weeds along the highway rather than a human life on an icy road. We worry more about salamanders crossing the road for breeding purposes rather than children crossing to go to school. We worry more about stone lined ditches and settling ponds than the homeowners drive back to his house. We worry more about the beavers than the damage they are doing to our property. We worry more about a stray dog than a senior citizen left to make financial choices about food or heat.
    Nice mess these back padding liberals have left us.

    • Jane Palmer

      You came blame anyone you want, Wayne. But the truth is, as technology is developed, those forest and factory jobs are eliminated. Take the sugar house in Shelburne that was recently highlighted in an article strangely pro gas…they said they don’t have to cut wood to run the arches anymore because they now have “natural” gas piped in. How many jobs do you think that eliminated? The world is changing and this pipeline is a change in the wrong direction.
      And I take issue on your comments implying that those who oppose this pipeline don’t care about their neighbors. The opposite is true. We fight this pipeline BECAUSE we care…we care about the environment and we care about future generations (of humans!) It is the people that don’t see that we are all interconnected that are doing our planet in, Wayne. You might not see the value of a salamander or a wetland, but they play a part in the entire system that we are dependent on and that some humans are determined to destroy in the name of the GDP.