Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Ferrisburgh ponies up $40,000 to fight VELCO

By Matt Crawford
Free Press Staff Writer
Ferrisburgh voters agreed at town meeting Tuesday to spend $40,000 to hire an attorney to represent the town in hearings related to a massive power line upgrade that would slice through the town.
The request for the money was brought up by Lisa Dulsky Watkins and was passed by a 120-30 paper ballot vote. It was not on the Town Meeting Day agenda.
"We had been discussing the need for a lawyer for a while," Dulsky Watkins said. "We had fallen short of the deadline needed to warn it for town meeting, so we had to make an amendment from the floor."
Ferrisburgh was thrust into the battle last month when Vermont Electric Power Corp. announced it was proposing significant changes to a $130 million power line upgrade project. The project would entail construction projects in 21 towns, erecting higher capacity power lines between West Rutland and South Burlington, Barre and Williamstown and improving 13 substations. It would be the largest electric transmission project in Vermont in two decades.
Technical hearings before the state's Public Service Board opened days after VELCO filed its amended plans, and Ferrisburgh residents scrambled to become part of the proceedings. The first round of hearings are scheduled to continue until Friday, with additional testimony to come in April.
"It became very clear that VELCO is armed with dozens of lawyers, and they're prepared to spend whatever it takes," Dulsky Watkins said. "It seems like we need some advice."
Dana Cray said the support of the community was overwhelming and the next step is finding a lawyer to voice Ferrisburgh residents' concerns in front of the Public Service Board.
"Whoever it is that takes on this job has a lot of catch-up to do," Cray said. "It's going to be difficult."
Ferrisburgh is expected to provide testimony to the board in mid-April, and the board is expected to decide by June 30 whether the project should proceed.
VELCO owns and operates Vermont's high-voltage electric transmission system. It is owned by Vermont's electric utilities.
"We respect the town's decision," VELCO spokesman David Mace said. "We've been trying to work with Ferrisburgh to address the town's concern and hope this decision doesn't preclude us from working with them in the future."
Shelburne, Charlotte and Vergennes have had legal representation since early in the process.
Contact Matt Crawford at 651-4852 or