The town of Cornwall is calling on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission to fight a proposed natural gas pipeline that, if constructed, would carry gas underground from Middlebury to Ticonderoga, N.Y.
The Public Service Board approved "Phase One" of the Addison Natural Gas Project, which regional planners endorsed, in late December; that leg will bring gas south from Chittenden County to Middlebury. Vermont Gas — a subsidiary of GazMetro — filed plans requesting approval for "Phase Two" with the PSB in November. The second leg would jog southwest, through Cornwall, Shoreham, and then under Lake Champlain to its terminus: the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
In her letter this week to the regional planners, Cornwall selectboard member Judy Watts points to two provisions in the regional plan which she argues provide "specific and unambiguous" reasons for rejecting the Phase II project. The plan states that energy infrastructure and services should not "cause undue adverse impact to the health and safety of residents or on the environmental quality of the Addison Region," and that no large energy generation or transmission facilities should be constructed in the region "which have as their primary purpose providing energy markets outside the Addison Region." The letter is signed by all five members of the Cornwall selectboard.
Vermont Gas has said 70 percent of the gas flowing through Addison County would head to Ticonderoga.
As such, board chair Bruce Hiland thinks the issue is pretty black and white. Hiland doesn't take offense at Phase I of the pipeline project, which will funnel gas to major employers in Middlebury, including a Cabot cheese processing plant. Nor does he object to a goal of getting natural gas to Rutland, which Vermont Gas says is the ultimate goal.
The Phase II leg is different, he says; it's designed with a New York customer in mind. To the commission, he says, "If you want to change the plan, go ahead. There's a whole procedure for changing the plan." But he stresses that the commission shouldn't "waltz around" the language as it stands now.
Vermont Gas takes a different tack. There's language in the regional plan that warns against considering any one goal or directive in isolation.
"We disagree with Cornwall’s interpretation of the regional plan; contrary to their opinion, the project provides economic and environmental benefits with no adverse undue impacts," wrote Steve Wark, the Vermont Gas communications director, in an email to Seven Days. "With this project, Vermont will be able to reduce regional emissions (including those that blow into Cornwall) from customers who currently use oil, by 23 percent. The project will also help the struggling families and businesses in Rutland cut their fuel bills in half, 15 years sooner."
ACRPC executive director Adam Lougee says members of the commission are evaluating Phase II of the pipeline project. Various committees are weighing the proposal, and will likely make their recommendations to the full commission in March. The commission will then vote on whether or not to intervene in PSB proceedings (Lougee says that's almost certain to happen), and decide what position to take. "We’re trying to make a thoughtful decision as to how we act, and that’s for my commissioners to decide," says Lougee. "I’m confident that they will make the right decision."
The town of Cornwall has been consistently outspoken in its opposition to the project. What started as objections from residents along the proposed pipeline route — voiced in part in roadside signs throughout the village — was taken up, in turn, by the selectboard. "We're fighting at every juncture," says Hiland. In addition to appealing to the regional planning commission, the town is filing on a jurisdictional issue — arguing that, because the pipeline would be an interstate project, the PSB doesn't have jurisdiction until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission waives its oversight.
Meanwhile, the town is gearing up for a public opinion poll to try to get "hard numbers," as Hiland puts it, to better understand community sentiment on the project. Town leaders are also seeking out expert witnesses for the possible PSB show down.
"We're just this tiny little mouse trying to deal with this great big machine coming at us," says Hiland. "I guess we’re leaders by elimination, because nobody else is doing anything."
Disclosure: Kathryn Flagg's husband, Colin Davis, is a delegate to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission representing the town of Shoreham.