The Selectboard of Cornwall sent a strong message to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s office last week, condemning Vermont Gas Systems’ plan to build a pipeline through the town to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
“While a plausible case is made that the ‘Phase 1’ pipeline to Middlebury will serve Vermonters’ economic public good, NO such argument can be made for the so-called ‘Phase 2’ pipeline” to the New York paper plant, the letter says.
Cornwall Selectboard chairman Bruce Hiland said Vermont Gas Systems has been working with the town for almost a year to address the town’s concerns, but hasn’t been helpful.
“They have turned every opportunity into a problem, just about,” Hiland said in an interview.
Representatives for International Paper in Ticonderoga signed on to get Vermont Gas to pipe natural gas under Lake Champlain, a move they say will save money and jobs and promote economic growth in the region.
Hiland called those statements “pure fluff,” and says the mill is profitable as-is.
Any money International Paper saves by switching to natural gas “goes right straight to the Memphis checkbook of International Paper’s corporate offices,” Hiland said.
Cornwall’s Selectboard wants nothing to do with Vermont Gas Systems’ “Phase II” project, and its members think Vermont’s Public Service Board should rule against the company.
“I can assure you that we wouldn’t be working this hard if we didn’t believe in the statutory process finding the right answer,” Hiland said.
Steve Wark, a spokesman for Vermont Gas Systems, said he was “unprepared” to comment over the phone. He said in an email statement that the Phase II project is, in fact, good for Vermont.
“Vermont Gas strongly believes that service to the Ticonderoga Paper Mill provides Vermont with a unique, $45 (million) opportunity to build a bigger, longer pipeline to service Rutland 15 years sooner than planned,” he wrote. “The only way to get the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas to Rutland before 2035 is to serve the Ticonderoga Paper Mill.”
Wark wrote that the company worked to develop a route that would only pipe gas across six landowners’ properties while providing service to residents of Cornwall and West Cornwall. He suggested the effort to block the project was rooted in a lack of understanding of Rutland’s troubled economy.
“Rutland’s median income is one of the lowest in Vermont,” he wrote. “It’s hard to understand why someone would work to block the expansion of natural gas service to more Vermonters, particularly those in Rutland. They may not understand how challenged the Rutland economy is.”