Thursday, February 12, 2004

Power line hearings leave some in the dark

By Matt Crawford
Free Press Staff Writer
Technical hearings on a proposed $130 million power-line upgrade in northwestern Vermont began Wednesday in Montpelier. At least one group of Vermonters with a stake in the project wasn't part of the proceedings.
"My rights and the rights of all newly affected landowners are being totally ignored," said Gary Lange, who is among a number of Ferrisburgh residents who found out in mid-January that their properties would be affected by the project.
The Vermont Electric Power Co. -- or VELCO -- planned to string power lines past Ferrisburgh as part of a massive power-line upgrade proposal called the Northwest Reliability Project. The outline of that plan was filed with the Public Service Board on June 5. Significant changes to the project -- including a revised route that moves the power line through parts of Ferrisburgh previously unaffected -- were announced Friday.
The fact that the technical hearings started Wednesday, just days after the re-route was announced, miffed several Ferrisburgh residents.
"I think a lot of folks feel blindsided," said Lange, who has a law office in Burlington. He has filed with the board to be a recognized party in the proceedings. "All I'm looking for is my due process rights. I'd like to have time to conduct discovery, to participate in the hearing process, to ask witnesses questions, to prepare for hearings."
Ferrisburgh's Dana Cray said residents feel forced to play catch-up.
"We have not received the same amount of time that other people have had to prepare for these hearings," Cray said. "That's what we want people to understand."
Sue Hudson, the Public Service Board's clerk, said it's likely the board will allow new witnesses -- those affected by the revised proposal -- to testify in April.
Ferrisburgh might have a town-sponsored lawyer working on the project by then.
Larry Simino, chairman of the town's Selectboard, said the newly affected residents have asked for the town to hire a lawyer to represent their interest in front of the Public Service Board.
"It was discussed about the possibility of them coming to town meeting and amending the town budget to hire an attorney," Simino said.
VELCO president Marty Miller said Wednesday the company wants to make sure the newcomers to the case have the chance to comment.
"Essentially it's a matter in front of the board," Miller said. "I'm sure the board will be fair in their treatment."
Ferrisburgh appointed a four-member committee last fall to represent the town in the technical hearings, but that committee was assembled long before the revised plan was unveiled.
Contact Matt Crawford at 651-4852 or