October 01, 2004

Ferry Road residents challenge proposed power line location

By Dorothy Pellett

CHARLOTTE -- Residents of at least one Charlotte neighborhood are taking a very personal interest in the Selectboard's discussions with the Vermont Electric Power Co. over the company's proposed power line upgrade.

The Selectboard wants VELCO to bury a 3,000-foot section of line as part of the effort to diminish effects of the Northwest Reliability Project. A route proposal released by VELCO last month has added to residents' concerns.

Robert Booher, Eric Durett, Catherine Hughes and Richard Poulin have all petitioned the board to be intervenors.

They all live near the intersection of Ferry Road and the proposed above-ground route. They fear that the line would harm the beauty and value of their property, the peace of the neighborhood, and possibly their health. They also are angered by the fact that they weren't notified by VELCO that the line would go near their homes.

Booher's residence is closest to the proposed route. Although his home is less than 100 feet from railroad tracks, Booher said he had no complaint about the noise from trains, even when the commuter trains were running. He said he feels very different about a high-voltage line near his home.

Booher's concerns are aesthetics, property values and possible health risks. He estimates that one of the 70-foot poles would be where his backyard pond is located.

"It was done in an unfair manner," Booher said. "They never contacted us. This was to be my retirement home. I've done everything to improve the house inside and out, raising its value from $120,000 to $179,000. Now I won't want to live here and neither will anyone else. I'm willing to allow them to bury the line on my property, and we would have a win-win situation."

David Mace, VELCO spokesman, met with the affected landowners Sept. 15. He agreed that the company erred by not notifying the affected residents earlier about the proximity of the poles to their homes.

"We were in error," Mace said later that week. "I met with Catherine Hughes and Richard Poulin. I offered to meet with Mr. Booher, but he declined. We sent a letter explaining the process for them to still intervene."

The residents are determined to follow through with their objections, and are working with the Public Service Board to become legal intervenors.

In June 2003, VELCO petitioned the Vermont Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good for a $130 million power line upgrade.

The project would include the building of electric lines capable of carrying 115,000 kilovolts instead of the 34,000 carried on existing lines between West Rutland and South Burlington, Barre and Williamstown, and improve more than a dozen substations along the route.

The upgrade would include taller poles, and expansion and relocation of a substation in Charlotte.

The board must determine if the VELCO project will serve the public good. Numerous hearings have been held and there are more to come. The Ferry Road residents said they were not able to present testimony at hearings in July because they had not been notified that the power line would be routed near their homes.

Poulin has lived in the neighborhood since 1949. He was a school bus driver for 26 years and a barber for 11 years. "We all would like to see the lines buried. Besides the health issues, who likes to stare at lines and hear them hum in cold weather?" Poulin said.

If the Ferry Road residents are granted party status in the intervention effort, they would be able to present prefiled testimony for hearings, according to Sue Hudson, clerk of the Public Service Board.

Some Charlotte residents are in favor of the power line upgrade project.

"I believe the upgrade is badly needed. Northwest Vermont came very close to a blackout last winter. Another blackout could easily occur when demand is unusually high or if ties to New York or Quebec go down again," Edwin Amidon Jr. said. Amidon supports the Selectboard's push to have a 3,000-foot section of power line buried.

The Public Service Board expects to make a decision on the Certificate of Public Good in January.