VELCO official confirms willingness to bypass downtown Vergennes


VERGENNES - Vergennes and Vermont Electric Power Company officials are talking about a deal in which VELCO's proposed new transmission line would bypass the city center, no changes would be made to the substation near the Otter Creek falls, and transmission lines south of Main Street would be removed.

Mayor Kitty Oxholm confirmed on Wednesday morning details of VELCO's latest proposal, which was made to the city at a Dec. 11 meeting attended by VELCO officials and Vergennes negotiators Craig Miner and City Manager Renny Perry.

"We were pleased with the progress the negotiating committee has made," Oxholm said. "They and we are really trying to look out for the best interests of the city of Vergennes."

VELCO's Vergennes proposal calls for the major new, 115-kilovolt line to run along the railroad tracks in a commercial area in the city's northeastern corner instead of through residential neighborhoods and the basin area below the Otter Creek falls.

That part of the proposal was made public last week. Oxholm confirmed this week several other elements, to which she said aldermen reacted favorably at an hour-long meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday night:

· That existing transmission lines south of the Otter Creek falls and West Main Street will be removed, except those that serve Vergennes. Oxholm said some poles now used for the transmission line might be kept to help move lower-voltage power locally.

· That VELCO will build a new substation in the north end of the city instead of replacing the existing basin substation. Oxholm said a possible site would be in a wooded area off Comfort Hill Road. "It will be well-shielded," she said.

· That lines heading north from GMP's hydroelectric dam to the proposed new substation will not carry the voltage that had originally been planned before VELCO's suggested changes. They "will not be brought up to what was proposed," Oxholm said. Lower poles are also being discussed, she said.

The mayor said that the city will continue its formal opposition of the VELCO plan, part of a proposed larger upgrade of its transmission lines between West Rutland and South Burlington, until an agreement is made final.

"We haven't seen anything written," Oxholm said. "The plan is for VELCO to file a written stipulation with the Public Service Board within the next couple months."

VELCO project manager Tom Dunn said the firm hoped by "early next month" to amend its application to the Public Service Board, which has jurisdiction on the overall VELCO project.

"If we can do that, that certainly would be the goal," Dunn said.

The pending agreement does not address the belief of some residents of the city and other Vermont towns that the VELCO project is not needed.

VELCO officials maintain it is necessary to improve the reliability of Vermont's electric power grid, but critics say conservation and energy-efficiency measures would accomplish the same goal without the project's impact on the Champlain Valley landscape and real estate.

Others believe electro-magnetic field generated by the proposed higher-powered lines pose a health hazard.

But Oxholm said aldermen believe the VELCO deal would address most or all of residents' concerns about the VELCO project as it directly affects the city.

"We're very close," Oxholm said. "And I think the residents of Vergennes are going to be really pleased."