If Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) wants to built a pipeline from Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., it must concede two points: 1) the public good of such a route is not a slam dunk and, if push comes to shove, VGS will likely face a legal challenge; 2) the economic benefits of partnering with the towns they want to go through will almost certainly outweigh the negative consequences of waging battle against them.
The gas company must also represent the Phase 2 project in totality: that is, not as a finite project, but as the next step in its development of a pipeline that goes south to Rutland and beyond. Not to do so creates unrealistic scenarios that exaggerate the project’s expense when viewed independently.
At issue is determining a route from Middlebury to the IP plant. VGS has determined the least expensive way to get to the IP plant is through Cornwall and Shoreham. On a map that may be true. But it increasingly appears it is not the path of least resistance, nor the least costly.
To date, the town of Cornwall is adamantly opposed to preliminary routes and, at this point, to the tactics VGS has used in their initial studies and surveys. That’s not only a bad start, but this is a town with some wealthy individuals who have plenty of legal expertise to delay the project for years, especially if imminent domain is questioned and fought by residents. The very specter of those added legal costs and years of delay add up to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and expense. It could make the extra cost of an alternate route seem like a bargain.
In a story in today’s paper, VGS estimates another route through Salisbury, Leicester and Whiting would cost an extra $15 million and add eight miles to the route, but in the big picture that’s false accounting. Most of those extra eight miles go south to Leicester. Those are miles that VGS needs to cover when it expands to Brandon and routes south. In short, it’s not hard to imagine VGS finding room for that extra $15 million in the Phase III development of the pipeline extension going south. Or it could simply add a few years to the return on investment. In a company as big as Gaz-Metro (which owns VGS), if it wants to court a big-ticket customer like the IP plant, there are ways the accounting can be adjusted to make it happen.
That return on investment, by the way, should be public knowledge. Certainly the Department of Public Service should know that information, and as representatives of the public at large, the information should be shared with the very communities that are being asked to shoulder the burden. By giving the towns that knowledge and encouraging a dialogue of mutual benefit, it’s more likely that VGS and the communities can become colleagues, not adversaries. Certainly, that’s the preferred route for everyone.
— Angelo S. Lynn