The reassessment by Vermont Gas Systems to change its proposed route through Monkton back to the Velco right-of-way instead of along public roads through a short stretch, was welcome news to many Monkton residents — though others are still peeved that the pipeline is headed through town without any apparent benefit to that community.
It’s a interesting dilemma from a public policy perspective.
Obviously, extending the pipeline from Burlington to Vergennes and Middlebury and on down to Rutland — and perhaps further south — offers tremendous public good to the communities it will serve. Existing businesses and homeowners in those larger communities will see fuel costs drop dramatically. Businesses will be more profitable and able to hire more workers, boosting the economic impact throughout those areas. For towns like Middlebury, Vergennes, Brandon and Rutland, it could level the playing field with Chittenden County in terms of energy costs and allow those communities to more effectively compete for economic development, particularly in manufacturing — an area of the economy that has been hit hard over the past 20 years and could use a shot in the arm.
The Public Service Board recognizes the greater good of such projects, which is one of the reasons energy- and power-related projects have a separate process through which they are considered. As public policy it makes sense to prevent one antagonistic town from being able to stop a project that would benefit many other residents on down the line.
But what if the pipeline is headed through towns that receive little to no benefit to a destination that serves the private good of one company, but not the public good at large? That’s the likely case when Vermont Gas Systems detours west from Middlebury enroute to the International Paper Company’s plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y. It would go through parts of East Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham for the purpose of reducing the energy costs of that one plant. To be sure, International Paper would bear the cost of the gas line so that it won’t be passed on to other ratepayers; and it’s likely that landowners would receive the same sort of easement payments common to such agreements.
But because there is no public good to the spur gas line, or at least very little, what, if anything, should be offered to those towns that have granted a throughway?
That question has been brought to the table, we’re told, and is under discussion. And no one, yet, is playing hardball. For the most part, the towns along the western corridor want to see lower fuel prices for businesses and homeowners and good jobs for their sons and daughters. But when the public good of running a pipeline through a town is marginal, or even if it is clear as in Monkton’s case, should there be compensation to the town for use of the land and what would that consequence be?
It’s a question that towns along the route, the PSB and Vermont Gas should put on their radar.
Angelo S. Lynn