Ticonderoga International Paper mill
International Paper (IP) passed a major hurdle towards developing a new energy source for their mill in Ticonderoga on Wednesday, April 9 when the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) voted to support a pipeline that would direct natural gas to the plant.
The decisive 15-11 vote came after a period of public outcry from Addison County towns who argued that the pipeline would serve little benefit to their communities.
“I don’t believe that it was an easy decision for any of our delegates,” said ACRPC Director Adam Lougee in a written statement. “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 Addison County Regional Plan.”
Prior to IP’s involvement, the proposed line stretched from Burlington to Middlebury. If approved by another agency this fall, a new 19-mile-long offshoot would redirect gas from Vermont Gas through a spur in Addison County to Ticonderoga.
IP representative Donna Wadsworth said the company will pay for a portion of the upgrades from Burlington to Middlebury and the full cost from Middlebury to Ticonderoga, a number that is currently estimated at $98 million, with an addition $12 million slotted for equipment conversion costs.
Prior to last week’s decision, Ticonderoga town supervisor Bill Grinnell urged lawmakers at the Essex County board of supervisors to join him in lobbying ACRPC for their seal of approval.
“We’re at an impasse at this moment in time,” he told his colleagues. “I’m not sure if Addison County understands the economic impact that this will have in our communities. It’s the right thing to do, the necessary thing to do.”
Board chairman Randall Douglas, who accompanied Grinnell to Wednesday’s meeting along with Crown Point supervisor Charles Harrington and Moriah’s Tom Scozzafava, said he was worried about the ramifications to IP, the largest private employer in Essex County with 600 staffers, and encouraged his fellow lawmakers to pass a resolution in support of the project.
“This pipeline is critical for IP and for this part of Essex County,” Scozzafava later told the Eagle. “I was pleased that the commission voted to support it. The process was very well professionally done. There was a lot of good discussion for and against and it really was democracy in action.”
“I don’t know what impact we had, if any, but we were well-received and the meeting was extremely well-done.”
Monkton resident Maren Vasatka, a vocal opponent of the project, attended Wednesday’s meeting and told the Eagle in a phone call that she believes that ACRPC’s decision was strictly a financial one that would benefit all parties except Vermont residents, especially those who are fighting eminent domain notices from Vermont Gas.
“If it’s going to be all about the money, then Vermont Gas needs to pay the homeowners a fair market value, which is something they are presently not doing,” she said.
Wadsworth said fuel costs to run the lime kiln and power boiler at IP are projected to escalate and the pipeline will bring “significant” savings and the project also brings environmental benefits.
Making the conversion from to natural gas from oil is slated to decrease greenhouse gases from the mill between 25 and 30 percent, she said, something that dovetails with New York’s push to reduce greenhouse gases.
“There’s a nice synergy between our company, the two states and greenhouse gas reduction plans,” she said.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said while his organization is supportive of any efforts that will support employment in the region, they will be paying close attention to the details as the project moves forward.
“A switch to natural gas would be very desirable for the airs of the region,” he said. “This will make a substantial difference in emissions output from the smokestacks.”
The next step in the process is for the Vermont Public Service Board to sign off on the project, a decision that is expected to be handed down sometime this fall.
“We anticipate being a customer of Vermont Gas by December 2015,” said Wadsworth.