New Haven to appeal VELCO approval


NEW HAVEN -- New Haven selectmen on Monday agreed to appeal the conditional approval by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) of the Vermont Electric Power Co.'s (VELCO) massive Northwest Reliability Project, believing an appeal to the state's highest court is the best way for the town to protect its scenic, environmental and public health interests.

Selectmen voted 2-0, with board member Burt Allen abstaining, to have attorney James Dumont file the town's appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court before Feb. 28, the deadline for parties to appeal the PSB's Jan. 28 decision to issue VELCO a certificate of public good for a $130 million transmission line upgrade from West Rutland to Burlington.

New Haven is basing its appeal on three main contentions:

· That the proposed 345kilovolt line and poles extending south to New Haven "will inflict substantial harm to the appearance and future development of the town," according to Dumont. "The pole and lines will dwarf the existing 115kV line."

Dumont, in an extensive report delivered to selectmen on Monday, also argued that the new VELCO infrastructure is likely to decrease local property values and may affect public health.

Studies have been inconclusive about the purported relationship between electro-magnetic fields and cancer. The PSB discounted criticisms of VELCO's project based on alleged health concerns.

· That allowing 345kV line to be extended to New Haven would be a precursor to VELCO then seeking to lay an additional 345kV line from the town northward, along North Street toward Monkton and Williston.

"This is like building a six-lane highway from Rutland to Burlington, instead of Route 7, in order to accommodate a future six-lane highway from New Haven to Burlington that has not yet been determined to be technically feasible; not yet subjected to environmental review; not yet discussed with potential host communities; and not yet funded," according to Dumont.

· That VELCO may eventually try to convince the PSB that it will not be able to move its New Haven substation to a less conspicuous location. The PSB, in its decision, agreed to require VELCO to spend an additional $1.8 million to $2.3 million   to move its substation approximately 1,000 feet south/southwest from its current location off Town Hill Road. VELCO wants to substantially expand the substation, but New Haven officials don't want that to happen at the present location, which is close to Beeman Elementary School and the center of town.

New Haven officials believe that absent an appeal, VELCO may be able to persuade the PSB that moving the substation is too onerous if, for example, the company discovers archaeological or wetlands hurdles associated with the new site.

"It's possible that VELCO could find a reason not to move the substation," New Haven Selectman Larry Buck said. "If they did, we wouldn't have a legal leg to stand on."

New Haven becomes the first town to officially announce an appeal of the 244-page PSB decision on VELCO. Other area towns and still weighing their options (see related story).

VELCO officials could say little on Tuesday about the pending appeal.

"VELCO has not seen the appeal and will withhold comment until we've had an opportunity to review (it)... " said VELCO spokesman David Mace. "We are certainly puzzled at the prospect of New Haven appealing a decision that calls for moving the substation, which they requested."

It's an appeal that apparently won't cost New Haven taxpayers any money. The group Voices for Sensible Energy Solutions has agreed to raise the estimated $10,000 in legal fees associated with the filing and another $2,000 for printing documents associated with the case. Voices is no stranger to fund-raising, having already generated thousands of dollars to supplement the $35,000 New Haven taxpayers have spent to represent the town's interests during the PSB review of the VELCO application.

Voices member Sansea Sparling said the group will raise money through a "Positive Energy Dance" to be held this May, along with a raffle and silent auction. The group has also applied for two grants.

Individuals from Ferrisburgh, Shelburne and New Haven have already offered to contribute money toward the appeal, according to Sparling. People interesting in donating money are being told to make their checks out to the town of New Haven, specifying in the memo line whether the money is for the "supreme court appeal" or for "docket 6860," to cover $20,000 in legal expenses still left from the PSB process.

Sparling has mixed feelings about the appeal.

"We would've preferred for the PSB to have taken more seriously the testimony offered on the question of need (for the project) and the least-costly alternatives," Sparling said. "However, given the opinion the PSB has published, I think it's a necessity to go ahead with the appeal. We are pleased the selectboard has made this decision."

It's a decision that's based on public feedback New Haven selectmen have received during the past two years.
"The town, so far, has supported opposition to the power line," Buck said. "It would be sad if we didn't follow through."