Deal Envisions Gas Pipeline Beneath Lake Champlain

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Vermont Gas says it’s signed a deal to build a pipeline under Lake Champlain to deliver fuel to a paper plant in Ticonderoga, New York.

The line is supposed to be completed within three years. International Paper has agreed to pay for the entire $70 million dollar project.

Vermont Gas spokesman Steve Wark says the line will be buried beneath the lake bed using a technique called directional boring. He says residential customers won’t pay for the project. Instead, the costs will be covered by the company’s newest customer: International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill.

"The agreement today with International Paper not only commits Vermont Gas to constructing a pipeline to Ticonderoga for use at the paper mill but also commits the Ticonderoga paper mill to pay for those costs on an ongoing basis," he says.

The gas company had already plan to run a line south from Chittenden County to Middlebury. Wark says the Champlain project means the company can extend the line further south sooner than originally planned.

"The good news is that this allows us to serve a regional business, and support that regional economy," he says. "It will help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, it’s going to allow us to move closer to Rutland without any cost impact to Vermont."

International Paper spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth says the deal helps the plant stay competitive because of lower fuel costs.  

"The savings in energy costs will be relative to the difference of high cost oil compared to low cost natural gas and right now that difference is substantial and we expect that differential to be substantial well into the future, so a very significant cost reduction for us," she says .

International Paper also expects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by switching to the cleaner burning fuel.

But environmentalists are likely to closely question those claims. Louis Porter is a Lake Champlain specialist with the Conservation Law Foundation. Porter says his organization will also look closely at the how the pipeline construction will affect the lake’s environment.

In particular, he’s concerned about a possible impact on phosphorus – the pollutant that’s fed the lake’s toxic algae blooms.

"When you do work on the bottom of the lake, you can put some of that phosphorus that’s in the sediment of the lake back into the water column and stir up sometimes what’s called legacy phosphorus," he says. "That’s one potential issue."

The pipeline project will need state and federal permits. Vermont Gas says it plans to begin the permit process next year.

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