In Shoreham last week residents asked some difficult questions of the primary beneficiary of a Vermont Gas Systems pipeline that seeks to cross through the town en route from Middlebury to Ticonderoga, N.Y. The responses caught International Paper in a Catch-22 scenario: the paper company had to represent the need for the lower cost fuel as something so important it might be the difference between staying open or closing, yet when questioned about the plant’s fragile long-term viability, plant officials had to suggest that it had a bright future because the hardwood forest that feeds the mill were nearby and relatively rare and such a valuable resource could not found in many places around the world.
So it was that IP officials pled poverty on the one hand, and prosperity on the other.
While the irony was rich, it was an honest answer. The future of any business lies in the fact that it remain profitable. The IP plant in Ticonderoga is successful because the hardwood forests within a very short perimeter are well-managed and produce a high-quality pulp that allows this plant to produce higher-grade papers. To date, that business is lucrative enough to encourage long-term investments in the facility and workforce.
But the future is uncertain, so good business practices are a must. If a plant can save 40 percent of its fuel costs by switching to natural gas, and that amounts to something close to $20 million a year in raw costs, then naturally the plant managers would be remiss in not doing everything it can to secure the savings. That’s just good business. It’s probably also true that by adding some fraction of $20 million to the bottom line, the brass at IP corporate may think more favorably of the plant in annual meetings and keep the plant operational.
That’s all to the good. Addison County residents should not want the IP plant across the lake to go out of business. They are our neighbors and create good-paying jobs in the region that create economic benefits to the Addison County community. It’s also good because it means the net gain from the lower cost fuel, substracting the cost of the pipeline and discounted prices on its current fuel oil use, could be shared with the host communities in some way to offset the inconveniences the host communities and residents experience. It may not be $20 million a year net, but if it’s anywhere in the ballpark, it’s a big number to the host towns and it’s information the Public Service Department (in its role as an advocate for the people) should try to get and put on the table.
Moreover, the PSD should help the residents of Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham come up with a decomissioning stipulation, whereby either IP or VGS is responsible for mitigating any long-term impact to the pipeline corridor when or if the IP plant closes and the pipeline becomes obsolete or unused. That’s a reasonable request when the pipeline’s primary purpose is to serve one commercial entity.
In the meantime, it’s good to see IP come to the table and talk with community members. The towns deserve the open dialogue and we’re convinced it’s in the best interests of IP and VGS as well.
— Angelo S. Lynn