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Tire burn causing housing market jitters along lake

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BRIDPORT RESIDENT FRANK Russell says news of the upcoming test burn of tires at International Paper Co.’s Ticonderoga, N.Y., mill has warded off potential buyers of his family’s home on the Lake Champlain shorefront. Some real estate agents are saying many other properties in the lake area are also staying on the market longer because of the proposed burn.

Independent photo/Trent Campbell


By JOHN FLOWERS

BRIDPORT — Frank Russell possesses just about everything one could ever want in a home.

It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it sits majestically on 15 acres of land with 380 feet of frontage on the Lake Champlain shoreline in Bridport.

But there is one blemish in the pretty portrait — the silhouette of the International Paper Co. (IP) plant on the other side of the lake, in Ticonderoga, N.Y. Russell has known the presence of the plant would be a negative when he was ready to sell his property — which he is trying to do right now — but he never imagined this latest wrinkle: The possibility that IP would seek to burn tires at its mill.

Russell and some local real estate marketing lakefront homes in communities like Bridport, Addison, Shoreham and Orwell said last week that IP’s quest to burn tire-derived fuel at its mill has caused prospective buyers to shy away from purchases of prime, top-dollar properties that would normally sell quite easily.

“(The tire burn) is an issue, and it’s going to stay an issue,” said Russell, a retired physician who is selling in order to move closer to family. “People who can afford to buy lakefront property are willing to forgive a lot of things, but when you start talking about microscopic particulates that may kill you or affect your children, that’s a different matter.”

International Paper on Nov. 6 is scheduled to begin a two-week test burn of tire-derived fuel to power one of its boilers. Vermont authorities have taken legal action through federal and New York state courts in an effort to force IP to postpone the burn until it installs state-of-the-art pollution control equipment on its stacks. Area environmental groups believe that without such equipment, very small, toxic by-products from the burn will leave IP’s stack and waft across the lake into Addison County. Officials at IP counter that the upcoming test will determine whether it will need to upgrade its pollution-control equipment.

In the meantime, publicity surrounding the tire burn has drifted throughout the country, to some prospective buyers who have been taking a pass on Lake Champlain properties, according to some area real estate agents.

Eric Taylor of Century 21 Premier Properties in Rutland represents Russell and several other property owners near Lake Champlain in Addison County whose combined property listings total around $8 million. Russell said he received nine calls on Russell’s property after positing an ad in a national publication.

“All asked how far away from the mill the property was,” Taylor said. “They were not interested after finding out it was within several miles.”

Taylor noted that property seekers’ apprehension about the IP tire burn extends beyond the immediate sphere of the plant. Properties from Orwell to Addison are being affected, he said.

“It’s costing property owners major value in their homes,” Taylor said.

He recalled one prospective buyer who recently took a pass on an Orwell home over concerns about the tire burn. That buyer instead intensified his search in neighboring Sudbury.

“It’s a growing sentiment; people are educating themselves,” Taylor said.

Lynn Jackson of Vergennes-based Century 21 Jack Associates echoed Taylor’s observations about the impact of IP’s plans on the real estate market.

“It is a concern, affecting the southern part of the lake,” Jackson said. “I think that everyone in that area, their property values are being affected by the proposed burn. It remains to be seen how much.”

Jackson said she is marketing two homes just south of the Crown Point Bridge. One of the questions she has been fielding from prospective buyers has been, “how close is the paper factory, and how soon is the burn?”

Area real estate agents said some property owners are dropping their asking prices to close deals; others will wait out the upcoming test burn to see what happens.

But not all real estate agents are reporting a slumping market due to the impending tire burn.

Bonnie Gridley of Middlebury-based Re/Max Champlain Valley Properties said, “I have not (heard) anything negative from buyers as a result of the burn. People realize it will be a two-week event.”

Gridley said lakeshore properties with a view of the IP mill have always held less value than comparable properties that do not look upon that facility.

“If the property is priced correctly, it is selling,” said Gridley, who currently has lake-area properties under contract in Addison and Bridport.

Tom Walsh of Middlebury-based Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate said those seeking Lake Champlain shorefront properties have been apprehensive, in general, about buying homes near the IP mill, rather than specifically because of the impending tire burn.

EFFORTS TO STOP THE TEST

Vermont efforts to sell IP on the notion of canceling or postponing the tire burn have not borne fruit — at least, not yet.

Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, announced on Thursday that International Paper CEO John V. Faraci had rejected his overture for a meeting between the two to discuss the upcoming tire burn.

“In an effort to open a responsible, neighborly dialogue that might render ongoing legal action unnecessary, I wrote last week to the CEO of International Paper asking him to meet with me; even offering to fly to their headquarters in Tennessee,” Douglas said, in a press release dated Oct. 26. “The response I received today makes it very clear that he is not interested in such a dialogue.

“This is deeply disappointing, but not at all surprising given IP’s obstinate insistence on burning tire chips at their Ticonderoga paper mill without proper pollution controls,” he added.

Faraci, in an Oct. 26 letter to Douglas, said he was confident the tire-burn test will be conducted according to environmental standards.

“The planned trial follows an extraordinary and detailed public review,” Faraci wrote. “We will abide with the health-based environmental standards required by the government; and we will base our decisions regarding future operating plans at the mill on the scientific data obtained from this safely conducted trial. If, despite these assurances, you remain concerned, let me suggest that you visit our mill and receive a full briefing from our management team.”

Area environmental organizations held a protest against the upcoming tire burn this past Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Middlebury town green. The event featured a sign-up sheet for residents to include themselves in a potential citizens’ lawsuit against the paper company.

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