Friday, March 19, 2004

VELCO project debated in Charlotte

By Matt Crawford
Free Press Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE -- The three members of the state's Public Service Board returned to Charlotte on Thursday for the second time in six months to hear from Vermonters about a power line construction project planned to slice through much of western Vermont.
Two hundred people turned out in September; about 150 sat in the bleachers of Charlotte Central School on Thursday. Speakers were given three minutes to provide testimony to the board.
The issue is the Northwest Reliability Project, a $130 million power-line upgrade that would include the building of electric lines capable of carrying more power between West Rutland and South Burlington, Barre and Williams- town, 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 last fall's hearing.
Business leaders who spoke Thursday 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."
Thursday's hearing was a bit different from the September hearing in its focus. Thursday, members of the public were instructed 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 be 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.
"There is no perfect solution," said Doug Griswold of Charlotte, who operates a concrete business in Williston. "The reality is no matter where these go, there's going to be some unhappy people."
The project has yet to be approved, but Vermont's Public Service Board has heard testimony on the project since last summer, much of it from lawyers and scientists.
At least one more public hearing is scheduled.
"These meetings are really important in that they give the public the ability to provide feedback," said Tom Dunn, project manager for VELCO. "It helps us, too. We hear what's said here and are open to work with the community to make the project better."
The Public Service Board is a quasi-judicial board that oversees Vermont's public utilities, Chairman Michael Dworkin explained. The 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.
Members of Vermonters for Safe Energy -- a group that has raised concerns about the effects of electromagnetic fields from the bigger lines -- were in the crowd Thursday, but it was new voices the PSB most wanted to hear from.
Contact Matt Crawford at 651-485 or