The Addison County Regional Planning Commission has voted in favor of Phase II of the Vermont Gas Pipeline.
At a meeting in Middlebury Wednesday night, the commission voted 15 to 11 that the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Project, which would pipe gas from Middlebury to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, New York, conforms with "applicable provisions" of the Addison County Regional Plan.
The decision comes five weeks after residents in Cornwall and Shoreham – both towns in the pipeline's path – voted to oppose Phase II on Town Meeting Day.
Residents of those towns spoke out in unanimous opposition to the pipeline during the public comment portion of the meeting, citing environmental concerns and questioning the extent to which their community would really benefit from the project.
"I think that if we approve this, we're approving a very short sighted thing, where a few people will benefit from saving their money on their heating bills," said Dale Birdsall of Shoreham. "I just don't think it's worth it. And when you look at the benefactors, it's Vermont Gas, which is really Gaz Metro, in Montreal, or International Paper."
Public comment in favor of the pipeline came from a delegation of New York officials. Local leaders from Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Essex asked for cooperation and consideration of the communities that can stand to benefit from the pipeline.
"I'm not here to say that natural gas is the be all end all," said William Grinell, Ticonderoga town supervisor. "But it is so much better than any alternative that could be offered [that] I see no logic in not letting it happen."
Prior to public comment, the commission heard recommendations from four committees that had taken up consideration of the pipeline project. The Act 250/248 committee reported that it voted 6-4 against the project, while the Energy Committee voted 4-1 in opposition on March 3. The Natural Resources committee voted to endorse the project with provisions, while the Local Emergency Planning Committee (not a subcommittee of the commission, but a group responsible for planning for hazardous material and other emergencies) submitted a list of recommendations for mitigating the potential hazards that first responders will face if the pipeline project is built.
Adam Lougee, who is executive director of the commission and not a voting delegate, also shared his personal opinion.
"This is an economic development project. There's a lot of money at stake here," Lougee said. "[International Paper] is putting, they're betting, they're 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. Their projections for Rutland County are $700 million of benefit over 20 years. Even if you don't believe it's all true, it's a big number."
The commission's decision now goes to the Vermont Public Service Board, though Lougee says he expects the commission will add conditions to mitigate the adverse impacts of the pipeline.