TICONDEROGA — International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill won a victory Wednesday night when the Addison County Regional Planning Commission in Vermont voted to support a natural-gas pipeline to serve the plant.
The 15-11 vote to endorse Vermont Gas Systems’ Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project pipeline, with a 19-mile-long spur for IP, came after strong opposition from the Addison County towns that the section for the paper mill would pass through.
Commission members who supported it said the economic-development aspect of the pipeline and its benefit to Rutland County outweighed other concerns.
Although the Planning Commission decision is advisory only, it carries weight with the Vermont Public Service Board, which will vote on the request from Vermont Gas later this year.
Before the vote, Ticonderoga Town Supervisor William Grinnell, who had brought a group of Essex County public officials with him, addressed the commission to ask that it back the IP pipeline extension — for both the economic benefit and carbon-emissions reduction.
“It (natural gas) is so much better than any alternative that could be offered, I see no logic in not letting it happen.”
Grinnell said International Paper needs the less-expensive natural gas to replace fuel oil that it burns in the power boiler and limekiln at the 600-worker plant. The savings is estimated at more than $2 million a year.
Grinnell said his contingent included Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava, Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas.
“We were reasonably well received,” Grinnell said Thursday. “If people really want to reduce the carbon footprint of IP the benefit from natural gas is immense. It’s a no-brainer. I can’t see anyone with real knowledge of fossil fuels trying to argue that point. The majority of the board over there felt the same way.”
IP will pay $62 million of the $64.4 million cost of the pipeline branch to the mill. IP will also pay $45 million toward the Middlebury to Rutland extension cost of $70 million.
Among several who spoke against the project, Shoreham, Vt., resident Dale Birdsall told the commission the pipeline was “a very short-sighted thing” and should not be approved.
Many Vermont residents and communities have come out against the pipeline extension because it benefits entities outside Vermont: International Paper, a business located in New York state, and Vermont Gas Systems, which is part of Gaz Metro of Quebec.
The Vermont towns of Shoreham and Cornwall, through which the extension would pass from Middlebury enroute to the Ticonderoga mill, have both voted to oppose its construction.
Vermont Gas already has permission from the Public Service Board to extend a natural-gas pipeline from Vergennes to Middlebury, Vt., and the Middlebury-to-Rutland extension is Phase 2 of that project. The IP branch would extend from the Phase 2 line.
Before public comment, the Planning Commission heard from four of its committees that had considered the pipeline project.
The Act 250/248 Committee had voted 6-4 against the project, while the Energy Committee voted 4-1 against the pipeline.
The Natural Resources Committee voted to endorse the project, with provisions.
The Local Emergency Planning Committee submitted a list of recommendations for handling the possible hazards that first-responders would face if the pipeline malfunctioned.
Scozzafava said Thursday he was impressed with the professionalism with which the meeting was conducted.
“It was a well-run meeting and every one of the commissioners was heard. There were good points pro and con. They treated us very well, respectfully, allowed us to speak.
“Even though there’s a lake between us we need to work together. What’s good for us is good for them.”
At the meeting, Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee told members the pipeline is a worthy economic-development project.
He said International Paper is investing “$80 million in this project, $40 million of which will benefit Vermont. We don’t see that kind of money in Addison County or in Rutland County.”
Vermont Gas is predicting $700 million in benefit over 20 years for Rutland County.
Lougee said by email Thursday that the process was guided by the commission’s Regional Plan.
“After a long, thoughtful and transparent discussion, ACRPC voted 15-11 to find that the project conformed to the regional plan. I don’t believe that it was an easy decision for any of our delegates.
“However, I believe they read the plan in its totality, considered the comments of our citizens and of our neighbors in New York and Rutland, weighed the costs and benefits of the project, and used their best judgment to arrive at a vote where a majority felt the project conformed to the plan.”
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