Public packs gym for and against gas pipeline
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | May 08,2014
Bruce Edwards/Staff Photo
Opponents and supporters of a natural gas pipeline crowded the gym at the Shoreham elementary school Wednesday night for a Public Service Board hearing.
SHOREHAM - Opponents and supporters of a proposed natural gas pipeline packed the gym Wednesday night at the elementary school here for a Public Service Board hearing on the second phase of the project that would connect the International Paper mill across Lake Champlain.
One after the other, opponents of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project — many wearing "Stop the Fracked Gas Pipeline" stickers — stepped to the microphone to denounce the Vermont Gas Systems plan. They recited a litany of objections, much of it focused on what they said were the environmental ramifications of a project that relies on fracked gas from Alberta.
They argued the fossil fuel project will only exacerbate the problem of global warming and has the potential to pollute Lake Champlain.
Jane Palmer of Monkton, whose small organic farm is threatened by the pipeline, took the PSB to task for failing to abide by the wishes of Vermonters to reject the first phase of the pipeline. Palmer said the Addison County Regional Planning Commission ignored its own regional plan in voting to approve Phase II of the project by a 15-11 vote. And she said, although Monkton residents rejected the pipeline in a Town Meeting Day vote, two of the affirmative votes for the pipeline came from the town's representatives to the regional commission.
"So what's the use," Palmer asked. "Why bother writing a town plan or a regional plan if it can be disregarded."
"I guess democracy can be bought after all," she said.
George Klohck of Middlebury expressed concern that the those in a decision-making capacity are not listening to the people.
"First is the rush to run a pipe through our beautiful valley and under our precious lake," said Klohck, a Methodist minister. "Who is listening to the desperation of those whose lives are being torn apart by the threat of a pipeline driven across their land, close to their homes, through their farms, crushing their hopes and dreams, leaving them with a nightmare."
Salisbury resident Barrie Bailey told the board the closest natural gas pipeline to the mill is actually north of the plant through the Adirondacks. Yet, she said the IP plant can't connect to that pipeline because the Adirondacks are "considered too pristine" by New York officials. "So what is Vermont's environment and land," Bailey said. "Are we chopped liver?"
Other opponents also raised concerns that drilling under Lake Champlain could disturb a sludge pool at the plant, the release of which they said would cause serious damage to the lake that separates the two states.
But supporters showed up as well, defending the environmental and safety record of International Paper. Although the second phase of the pipeline would only serve the small towns of Shoreham and Cornwall, the primary customer would be the mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Supporters made their case telling the audience and the three-member PSB that the IP plant with its 600 workers is not only critical to the economy of the North Country but important to Vermont as well. The plant employs Vermont residents and buys goods and services from Vermont businesses, including loggers.
The VGS project is being proposed in three phases. The first phase extending the pipeline south from Colchester to Middlebury received PSB approval in December. The second phase, now under review, would extend the pipeline west from Middlebury under Lake Champlain to the IP plant. The third phase would further extend the line south to parts of Rutland County, including Brandon, Pittsford and Rutland City.
Because IP is paying VGS $62 million of the $64 million construction cost to switch over to natural gas, it will allows VGS to use that money to extend the pipeline to Rutland 15 years earlier than anticipated.
Supporters Wednesday included economic development officials from Ticonderoga and Essex County, N.Y., an IP union representative, and a few from Vermont, including Thomas Donahue, CEO of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and Jim Stewart of Omya Inc., which has a calcium carbonate plant in Pittsford.
Donahue said the pipeline is important for job growth and will also mean significant energy savings for residents.
"Make no mistake, we not only support this entire project but believe strongly it is a critical investment for the future of our local economies and in turn the economic prosperity of our residents," Donahue said.
The project was also supported by Shoreham resident Steve Jackson. "I'm in favor of reducing our dependence on foreign oil," Jackson said.
The PSB will hold a second hearing June 12 in Middlebury.