Vermont Gas piques town’s interest in pipeline
By Patricia Minichiello
Staff Writer | March 13,2014
Rutland Town officials were receptive Tuesday night to the idea of running a natural gas pipeline through the neighborhoods and farms of their doughnut-shaped community.
Calling the project “promising,” officials welcomed representatives from Vermont Gas to discuss the pipeline in the first of what could be several meetings regarding the Rutland phase of the expansion.
“We are committed to bringing natural gas services to as many places as we can. There’s a significant demand and we are half the cost of fuel oil or propane,” said Eileen Simollardes, the vice president of Supply and Regulatory Affairs at Vermont Gas.
Simollardes gave an overview of the company and what the future holds for the greater Rutland area. She said with the introduction of the pipeline many homeowners will experience a savings of up to $2,000 a year in energy costs.
In a 20-year estimate, she said the cost savings for homes and businesses in Rutland County could reach the $700 million mark.
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing it all come together,” Simollardes said, adding that no route has been planned yet for Rutland. She did, however, estimate that the company would be able to serve the Rutland region by 2020.
Before that happens, Vermont Gas has to complete Phase I and Phase II of the project.
The company has received Public Service Board approval to extend the pipeline south to Middlebury for Phase I. When that is complete — by 2015, Simollardes said — the company plans to extend the pipeline west under Lake Champlain to service the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
But why would Vermont Gas go west to Ticonderoga to facilitate going south to Rutland? The short answer: IP is paying $45 million to bring the pipeline 17 miles closer to Rutland at no cost to ratepayers.
Phase III would extend the pipeline south to Rutland County.
Before the pipeline discussion, the board elected a new chairman and clerk.
Selectman Steve Hawley was elected chairman by a vote of 4-0 and Don Chioffi secured the clerk position by the same margin. Hawley took the reins after longtime chairman Stanley Rhodes III lost his re-election bid to Mary Ashcroft on Town Meeting Day.
After the Vermont Gas presentation, the newly-elected chairman said the project “sounds very promising” and opened the floor to questions.
Ashcroft asked what the typical payment to a landowner would be for the pipeline to cross their property.
“There is no typical payment,” Simollardes said, “but I can tell you what the process is to get to a payment.”
She said they use the appraised value of the land to determine an offer. For example, if the acre of land they are looking at is appraised at $10,000 and the company needs half an acre for the pipeline, Simollardes said they would offer $5,000.
“We also offer compensation if it’s a farmer whose growing season we are interrupting during construction.”
Negotiations are site specific and landowner specific, she said, adding that the company is still in negotiations with half of the 200 landowners in Phase I of the project.
Nick Santoro, a resident of Rutland City who attended the meeting, asked about the controversy in which two Monkton landowners filed a motion with the Public Service Board claiming the route of the pipeline would devastate their property. On its way south, the pipeline would go through the couple’s small farm.
He asked if representatives were worried that could happen here.
Simollardes responded by saying that there’s always two sides to every story.
“There are probably a dozen landowners in Monkton who are unhappy with the status of negotiations with Vermont Gas. Could that happen in another community? Of course, it could. Am I hoping that we learn and improve on things as we go forward? Of course, I am.”
After the meeting, Santoro said Vermont Gas representatives seemed tight-lipped about what’s happening in Monkton.
“They don’t want to talk about what’s happening in Canada either,” he said, referring to the fracking of natural gas in that region.