IP, Vermont Gas reach agreement for underwater natural gas line that connects Lake Champlain to IP paper mill in Ticonderoga, New York; mill officials to help pay for line, which would allow site to run on natural gas instead of fuel oil
TICONDEROGA, New York
November 5, 2012
(Times Union (Albany, NY))
– Lake Champlain would get its first-ever underwater natural gas line under a $70 million project by a Vermont utility to connect below lake bottom to a paper mill in Ticonderoga on the lake's western shore.
The company, Vermont Gas, reached an agreement last month with International Paper for the new line, which is proposed to cross under the lake bottom from Addison County to Ticonderoga, where the lake ranges in width from about 2,000 feet to more than a mile.
Under the agreement, mill officials agreed to help pay for the new line, which would allow the mill to run on cleaner-burning and less-expensive natural gas, instead of the fuel oil currently being used.
Plans aim for the gas line to be in place by the end of 2015. The project requires environmental reviews and permits from the public service boards of both New York and Vermont.
This is the second major energy project that would use the lake as a corridor. Currently, a proposal by Transmission Developers Inc. to run Canadian hydro-electric power down the lake in a cable on the bottom is undergoing multiple reviews by New York state and federal officials.
"I can't overstate the importance of this agreement," said Chris Mallon, Ticonderoga mill manager. "This agreement provides a unique opportunity for the mill to reap the benefits of a fuel that is much lower cost, while positioning us to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
In operation at its current location since the 1970s, the mill employs about 600 workers, and also supports the jobs of hundreds of loggers and truckers. The company caused some controversy among environmentalists a few years ago when it proposed including shredded tires as fuel, but that was never done.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation referred questions about the project to the state Public Service Department. No plans for the gas line have yet been filed with the department, said Pamela Carter, a spokeswoman for the state Public Service Commission.
Vermont Gas spokesman Stephen Wark said plans will be filed with both the PSC and the Vermont Public Service Board. "We are still a ways off from filing. This is a long process," he said.
The line would be part of company plans to extend gas service in Vermont southward to Middlebury and Rutland. Public meetings on the Lake Champlain gas line are still to be scheduled, Wark added.
The chief scientist at a Lake Champlain advocacy group said he believed the project could be done "in an environmentally responsible way," but his ultimate conclusions would depend on the details of the project.
Plans call for the line to be laid using horizontal drilling under the lake bottom, which would reduce the amount of sediments that would be stirred up during construction, said Mike Winslow, chief scientist of the not-for-profit Lake Champlain Committee, based in Burlington.
"At this point, the issue of a potential leak in the line under the lake would be my biggest potential concern," he said. "A leak in the gas pipeline would clearly present an ecological problem."
Wark said the underwater line drilling method has already been used safely by Vermont Gas to cross the Winooski and Missisquoi rivers. Vermont Gas has hired the Albany-based engineering firm of Clough, Harbour & Associates to do design, construction management, survey, environmental, archaeological and cultural work on the project.
A coalition of New York business and political leaders are behind the Lake Champlain project.
"Anything that strengthens (International Paper) is good news for the North Country, and there is probably nothing right now that can do more to strengthen the operation in Ticonderoga than access to natural gas," said Garry Douglas, president of North Country Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, one of a series of regional councils appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"We must all see this important development through to a positive conclusion, from extension of the pipeline from Vermont and conversion of the plant to the most expeditious possible action on required permits and approvals," said Douglas.
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