Power line opponents ask for delay

Tuesday November 23, 2004
John Dillon

(Host) Opponents of the power line proposed for western Vermont want state regulators to delay their decision on the project so that it can be studied further. But so far, the Public Service Board has refused. The board wants to stick to its schedule, clearing the way for a decision in mid-January.

VPR's John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The $130 million power line will run from West Rutland to South Burlington.

In the town of New Haven, the Vermont Electric Power Company wants to build a major substation. New Haven officials say that work will require filling in a wetland area. Before the wetland can be touched, VELCO needs a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. According to the Army Corp, those permits usually take six months to process. The Corps also usually allows work in the wetlands only when the ground is frozen in the winter.

VELCO had planned to apply for the federal permits last summer, but it hasn't yet done so. Jim Dumont, a lawyer who represents the town of New Haven, questions why VELCO is in such a hurry, if it can't start construction in the wetlands for at least a year.

(Dumont) "So we're saying to the board, don't rush into this. We have plenty of time to hear the evidence you need to hear. And there's important evidence that they haven't heard yet."

(Dillon) VELCO says the project is needed to prevent blackouts and transmission bottlenecks in northwest Vermont. But Dumont says the company's central argument is open to question. He wants to present a witness who will challenge the reliability issue.

(Dumont) "What this expert has to say is that the standards VELCO has submitted to the board to base its decision on are the wrong standards. We don't really need this project. So we want the board to hear the whole story and see if we really need this project."

(Dillon) In a recent decision, the board refused to delay its schedule. However, it may allow additional testimony from New Haven's expert witness.

VELCO was pleased by the board's ruling. Spokesman David Mace says the company anticipates a ruling in mid-January. He also acknowledged that the company ran into with the federal wetlands permits.

(Mace) "Well, we're presently behind schedule in applying for some of our permits, but that's as a result of our efforts to finalize the design of the project. It's hardly justification for further delaying a decision on the final state permit, on the certificate of public good."

(Dillon) Mace says there's plenty of work the company can do while it waits for the wetlands permit. He says there's no question that the project is essential to avoid transmission problems in the future. But Dumont says that the reliability issues can be addressed instead through aggressive energy conservation programs.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.