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People line up to testify before the Vermont Public Service Board on Thursday, March 21, 2013. Photo: Sarah Harris
People line up to testify before the Vermont Public Service Board on Thursday, March 21, 2013. Photo: Sarah Harris

VT, NY weigh in on proposed natural gas pipeline

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A proposed natural gas pipeline from Vermont to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, New York, has some Vermont residents up in arms.

But International Paper and the North Country Regional Economic Development Council argue that supplying the mill with natural gas is vital to the North Country economy.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

People packed into the high school auditorium in Hinesburg, Vt., last week, to voice their opinions about a proposed natural gas pipeline before the Vermont Public Service Board.

Opponents rally outside before the March 21, 2013 Vermont Public Service Board hearing. Photo: Sarah Harris
Opponents rally outside before the March 21, 2013 Vermont Public Service Board hearing. Photo: Sarah Harris
Vermont Gas wants to extend service to customers in Addison and Rutland Counties. The pipeline would run from Williston, Vermont, south through Hinesburg, Monkton, New Haven, Vergennes, Middlebury, and Shoreham, and then under Lake Champlain to the Ticonderoga mill.

Opponents rallying outside before the hearing focused on climate change and hydro-fracking. "Solidarity forever!" they sang as they marched into the auditorium.

Inside, business leaders, environmentalists, farmers, students, and land owners waited to be called to the mic. The testimony took over three hours.

Pipeline supporters argued that cheap natural gas would allow Addison County, and eventually Rutland, to keep old jobs and attract new businesses.

Wayne Copa runs a pulp mill in Essex, Vermont, that sells to International Paper.

"We have a lot of local professional loggers, farmers and sugar makers in the Addison, Chittenden and surrounding counties that depend on International Paper and the forest industry. When there is good business, economy thrives. We commend Vermont Gas and International Paper and we need this pipeline to go through," he testified.

But Matt Baldwin says he doesn't want his Hinesburg farm to become part of an energy corridor.

"Right now the proposed pipeline route is down through my farm meadows, acres and acres of hay fields. We've conserved our land to keep this agricultural natural resource free from encumbrances like this. My recourse is to speak out as much as I can, to represent myself before the Public Service Board, if they listen. When they come to take my land through eminent domain I will fight them tooth and nail."

The rally outside the March 21, 2013 Vermont Public Service Board hearing focused on climate change and hydrofracking. Photo: Sarah Harris
The rally outside the March 21, 2013 Vermont Public Service Board hearing focused on climate change and hydrofracking. Photo: Sarah Harris
In Vermont, this sort of public engagement – saying your piece about an issue that could affect you, your business, your town – is a big part of state identity.

But Vermont's not an island. It shares a border, a lake and an economy with New York. And if the public service board approves the project, the two states may share a natural gas pipeline.

"We are an economic region," said Garry Douglas. "People commute back and forth, they invest back and forth, they take the ferries and the bridges to jobs and stores and businesses on either side of the lake. So we're very interdependent."

Douglas is from Plattsburgh. He chairs the North Country Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Economic Development Council.

That's a New York group that doesn't have anything to do with Vermont. But it does have a lot to do with the Ticonderoga paper mill.

And that's what brought Douglas, and several International Paper employees, to testify before the Vermont Public Service Board last week.

Douglas says it's important to help major regional employers like International Paper reduce their costs.

"While it is a very efficient and modern plant and a very productive work force, there's no question that they have a major cloud over their head with very high energy costs of operating that plant. We've looked with them at a number of options – the one that is most achievable is natural gas."

If the project is approved, the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga will receive $1.75 million of New York state money from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council to convert its boiler and kiln from oil to natural gas.

"That money is actually tagged for reduction of greenhouse gases," said Donna Wadsworth, spokesperson for the mill.

Wadsworth is also a representative on the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

Last week was the first of two public hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board.

The next one will be held on September 11th in Middlebury, Vermont.

The Public Service Board will determine whether or not to issue Vermont Gas a Certificate of Public Good.

If they do, then the pipeline can go forward.

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