Friday, Jun 25, 2004

Residents question VELCO power plan

By ED BARNA Herald Correspondent

BRANDON - Concerns about health, property values and aesthetics related to VELCO's power corridor swelled attendance at a Select Board meeting this week.

But the 30 or so people with questions or concerns about the utility's proposed upgrade of its western Vermont power corridor went away with little satisfaction Monday.

Residents were told the project is already past the stage of local hearings (including two at Otter Valley Union High School) and is now up for review by the Public Service Board.

There were complaints about not being notified, but utility spokesman David Mace told residents that state law does not require individual notification of all neighboring property owners. VELCO had tried to do this, in addition to notices in the newspapers, he said, but if properties changed hands the new owner would not have been contacted.

Changes to the corridor include a second power line with pairs of wooden poles from 61- to 97-feet high in addition to the existing 52-foot H-frame structures. Also, land will be cleared to use all of the new right of way, which will increase from 150 to 250 feet.

Mace said landowners who sold right-of-way easements to VELCO were compensated for likely impacts from the project.

That led resident Frank Farnsworth to observe: "Somebody else got the dollars, and I get the impacts."

Mace said VELCO needs the second, 345-kilovolt line in addition to the existing 115-kilovolt line because most of the system is 30 years old.

"It's all about reliability," he said.

If reliability is the main concern, Mace was asked, why not bury the lines to avoid problems with human tampering?

He said that in addition to being expensive, an underground power line would make failures harder to pinpoint. It would also generate a larger electromagnetic field than putting the lines high in the air, he said.

Extensive investigation by the National Institutes of Health has shown "there is no good scientific evidence" linking electrical fields with cancer or other health problems, Mace said.

Also, he said, transmission line fields are very weak - a dozen times less powerful than an electric razor or clothes dryer, for instance.

Select Board Chairman William Hatch said people can take their concerns to the Public Service Board, or to the Public Service Department, whose role is to advocate for consumers.

People could petition the town to take a stand, Hatch said, but legally the town is not a party to the proceedings.

On Wednesday, interim town manager Keith Arlund said he has heard that groups of residents were getting involved in the case, but the town government was not.