MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Regional Planning Commission has given its tentative backing to the proposed Addison Natural Gas Project, provided it meets a series of safety, environmental, economic and public outreach conditions set forth in a memorandum of understanding signed Aug. 12 by the regional planning commission and Vermont Gas.
“This is a very significant development, from Vermont Gas’s perspective,” Steve Wark, the company’s spokesman, said on Thursday. “This is another agreement in the overall process as we move forward.”
The five-page memorandum of understanding applies to Vermont Gas’s “Phase I” plan to extend a 41-mile natural gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. If OK’d by the Vermont Public Service Board, the pipeline will begin providing natural gas to portions of Middlebury by next year, followed by Vergennes, and then areas of Monkton, New Haven and Bristol by the end of 2016. Plans call for East Middlebury to receive service by 2017, according to Wark.
It should be noted the memo does not cover Vermont Gas’s Phase II plan to extend a pipeline from Middlebury, through Cornwall and Shoreham and under Lake Champlain to International Paper Co. in Ticonderoga, N.Y. That Phase II project continues to draw fire from residents, particularly in Cornwall. Many citizens there object to the notion of a major pipeline, carrying a volatile gas, going through the town for the primary benefit of one major corporate consumer — International Paper.
Phase I has proved less controversial, though its proposed route has generated some opposition — including in Monkton, and from county residents concerned about the use of natural gas that has been extracted from the ground using hydraulic fracturing.
Vermont Gas officials hope that state regulators view the new agreement with the regional planning commission as good supporting evidence that the Phase I pipeline should be granted the certificate of public good it needs to proceed. The Public Service Board is scheduled to hold its second (and last) public hearing on the pipeline application on Sept. 10 in Middlebury.
“This is an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to provide natural gas and energy efficiency services to Addison County, and eventually Rutland,” Vermont Gas President Don Gilbert said of the accord. “The commission’s hard work and guidance has strengthened this project and increased its benefits to the county. With their leadership, we were able to reach agreement on the issues most important to the community and enhance the economic and environmental advantages of this important project.”
Adam Lougee, executive director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, said the memorandum does not supersede any position that individual Addison County towns might take regarding the pipeline project.
“The opinion of the region is not binding on any town,” Lougee said.
The memorandum received support from a clear majority of the commission’s board of directors, according to Lougee.
“By filing this memorandum of understanding, we’ve in essence settled our concerns for our portion of the case,” he added.
Key provisions of the memorandum stipulate that in order to garner Addison County Regional Planning Commission support, Vermont Gas must ensure that it:
• Pays all costs related to the project, except in cases in which individual customers are located more than 100 feet away from a distribution line. Such customers must pay a tariff to bring service in from beyond 100 feet.
• Screens the five gate stations that would be built to help distribute gas to the communities. The gate stations, on average, would be 10 feet by 30 feet, surrounded by fence.
• Works with other entities along the pipeline route that might be interested in using the conduit as a vehicle for their own renewable natural gas. For example, the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury and Integrated Energy Solutions are hoping to use the Vermont Gas pipeline to get biogas to Middlebury College. The biogas is to be extracted from manure at the Goodrich Farm and from manure trucked in from other area farms.
• Provides training to local fire departments and rescue organizations to make sure they are prepared in the event of a natural gas-related accident. The company is also expected to launch a public awareness campaign on safety issues.
• Designates a community liaison to address municipal and landowner concerns during construction.
• Hires, to the extent possible, Vermont-based suppliers and contractors in building the project.
• Tries to coordinate pipeline work in a manner that would not damage — and perhaps even advance — municipal transportation and utility projects.
“We believe the conditions in the MOU addresses nearly all of the concerns raised by the Addison Regional Commission concerning the project,” Lougee said. “We are especially pleased that Vermont Gas has chosen to provide service to the village areas of each of the towns through which Phase I of the transmission line passes.
“The natural gas distribution infrastructure will help our villages to develop in accordance with the regional plan and state planning goals calling for compact villages surrounded by rural countryside,” he added.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.