About 150 turn out for second hearing on power lines

CHARLOTTE, Vt. -- About 150 people turned out for a debate about a power line construction project that would slice through much of western Vermont.

It was the second time in six months the Vermont Public Service Board took testimony from the public.

The proposed $130 million power-line upgrade would include new electric lines capable of carrying more power between West Rutland and South Burlington, Barre and Williamstown, and improve more than a dozen substations along the route. The project, being proposed by Vermont Electric Power Corp., would be the largest electric transmission project in Vermont in two decades.

Many of Thursday's speakers echoed the complaints and support that were aired in the first hearing last fall.

Business leaders who spoke supported the project, arguing the need to provide a more reliable flow of electricity into greater Chittenden County.

Opponents argued the aesthetics, the potential health drawbacks and the project's ability to lower the value of property along the proposed route.

"Tourists don't want to come to Vermont to see large, industrial-type power lines towering above the tree lines," said John Owen of Charlotte, who wanted part of the project buried. "Our unique landscape is an important resource."

Speakers were told to make comments about changes to the project that were announced by VELCO in February.

Those changes primarily affect residents in Ferrisburgh and Charlotte. In Ferrisburgh, the changes mean new lines would run along a railroad bed on the southern end of town. In Charlotte, the power lines would avoid the Waldorf School, and the site of a substation has been changed.

Many speakers wanted parts of the project buried underground, an option that VELCO says is far too costly.

At least one more public hearing is scheduled.

The Public Service Board is a quasi-judicial board that oversees Vermont's public utilities. The three-member board will use comments from the public hearings and technical and legal testimony it has heard and is expected to make a decision by late October whether to give VELCO the go-ahead for the project.