( – promoted by Sue Prent)
Last night, I attended a PSB public hearing in Shoreham concerning Phase II of the Vermont Gas pipeline. 250-300 people, predominantly Addison County residents, turned out at Shoreham Elementary School to hear testimony and public comment concerning the intensely controversial pipeline extension which would pass from Middlebury through gate stations at Cornwall and Shoreham before crossing under Lake Champlain to International Paper in Ticonderoga. Speakers against Phase II outnumbered speakers in favor of the project by approximately four to one (my tally of sixty-plus speakers.)
Speakers against Phase II fell into a couple main groups:
Objections on legal grounds:
*Pipeline Phase II is not in compliance with the Addison County Regional Plan which explicitly precludes development of energy infrastructure involving “undue out-of-state transmission.”
*Regarding the taking of private property by eminent domain, Sec. 1. 12 V.S.A. § 1040 says:
“(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no governmental or private entity may take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking is primarily for purposes of economic development…”
exception is made for public utilities, …
“including entities engaged in the generation, transmission, or distribution of electric, gas, sewer and sewage treatment, or communication services;”
(Note: Vermont Gas is not a public utility.)
*Conditions on Phase I MOU’s regarding land acquisition are not being observed or enforced. There are insufficient assets in the easement fund. Land agents for Vermont Gas are performing actions identical to real estate agents in their interactions with landowners but are not being regulated accordingly. At present, there are irregularities concerning disclosure and those same agents regularly attempt to advise landowners, representing themselves as mediators (which they are not). An independent council must be set up to represent public interest in matters of compensation for land taken by eminent domain.
*Public Trust has been abused: the review process for the pipeline has been different from that for other recent applicants with similar projects; no “Least Cost Independent Analysis” review was required for pipeline Phase II – why not? PSB is violation of its own protocol.
*An incredible vagueness of landowner agreements (especially for those who will never be hooked-up but will nevertheless have Vermont Gas proprietary structures on their properties forever) was cited verbatim.
*Addison County residents are not satisfied that PSB has done due diligence for what will inevitably be a long-term (50-year) project should Phase II proceed.
*Town meeting referendums against Phase II with over 90% approval throughout Addison County were noted.
Objections on economic grounds:
*GazMetro, a company with over $5 billion assets, was allowed to front load the $80 million cost of pipeline planning & construction on Vermont ratepayers. The project will benefit an out-of-state corporation and a foreign holding company (GazMetro.)
*NYS said no to running the pipeline more directly through the Adirondacks. Why are we hosting it?GazMetro has a non-binding bid on railway transport through existing NYS rail corridor. Alternatives exist – why were they not explored?
*Homeowner conversion from oil to natural gas would cost $10,000+ per household and would deliver customers to a single supplier holding a monopoly on the fuel.
*Vermont Gas claims of savings of $2,000 per household are grossly inflated. In any event, availability of natural gas to individual homes and communities throughout Addison County will be limited to the village centers of Cornwall and Shoreham. Homeowners adjacent to the pipeline will bear all the risk but will receive none of the benefit.
Objections on grounds of concern for environmental damage and climate change:
*An enormous pond of toxic sludge dumped by International Paper sits buried in the lake sediment off Ticonderoga. It has not been mitigated as it has been deemed too dangerous to disturb. Directional drilling will tunnel through the sludge pond and the pipeline will be laid through or under it.
*Engineers Construction Inc. of Williston, the company retained for directional drilling for the pipeline, will be faced with a 5000′ transit of the lake bottom. The longest drill ECI has accomplished to date is 800′ (per company info.)
*Lake flora and fauna at great risk in the event of either pipeline failure or disruption of the toxic sludge pond off Ticonderoga (during directional drilling or subsequently.)
*Many speakers cited the recent White House report on climate change in urging the PSB not to grant Certificate of Pubic Good. The general sentiment is best expressed by one speaker who said,
“In the year 2014, no further development of fossil fuel infrastructure can be seen as being in the public good. It has been sold to us a by the governor and others as a bridge fuel to large-scale renewable energy. It is not a bridge fuel!”
Speakers in support of Phase II included spokespersons from both NYS and VT chambers of commerce, regional development boards, business groups and industry. The following is a fair representation of their sentiments:
*Ticonderoga Chamber of Commerce likes the project and says it is vital to the economic health of the town. United Steel Workers of IP like it, for similar reasons; Ticonderoga Regional Development likes it, noting that IP operates “within the confines of a national park” and is therefore very sensitive to environmental concerns and regulations; North Country Chamber of Commerce also likes it and notes that IP’s continued health and presence in Ticonderoga is essential to North Country economic health.
*Shoreham Fire Department would rather fight a pipeline fire than a truck or train fire, as far as natural gas is concerned.
*OMYA of Florence likes it; they are currently using liquified natural gas in their operations but could easily modify their equipment.
*Vermont Business Round Table likes it. Vermont foresters like it, as they are major providers of pulpwood to IP.
*Several self-identfying scientists noted that converting from #6 diesel to natural gas yields a 33% reduction in carbon/sulfur emissions; that fracking is safe – it has a 60-year history; and that methane is colorless and tasteless and easily soluble in water.
*Candidate Emily Peyton, resplendent in a scarlet tricorn, noted,
“Every house can be an independent energy station.”
Whatever that means.