VELCO hearings resume next weekend; town loses round

By David Gram, Associated Press Writer June 2, 2004

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Public Service Board hearings resume next week on a request by the Vermont Electric Power Co. to build major new power lines between West Rutland and South Burlington.

VELCO spokesman David Mace said Wednesday that the hearings are expected to focus on the company's plan to change the route of the power line away from the historic center of Vergennes to neighboring Ferrisburgh.

The company proposed several other changes along the route to try to alleviate concerns from residents about aesthetic and other impacts.

"These hearings will cover the proposed reroutes in Shelburne, Charlotte and Ferrisburgh, as well as cover environmental and aesthetic issues," Mace said.

Ferrisburgh and two area residents objected to the route changes, and the board set hearings for June 10th through the 18th to air their concerns.

Another round of hearings on all issues related to the proposed Northwest Reliability Project are set for late July and early August. Lawyers' final written arguments are due by early September and the board has said it expects to rule by mid-October.

Resumption of the hearings comes as another town along the power line route, New Haven, has lost in its bid to divvy up changes to the power grid planned for that community and have the board hear them separately.

New Haven plays a pivotal role, since it is the site of a substation from which a new power line would split off from VELCO's existing system and run up through Lake Champlain shoreline towns, including Charlotte and Shelburne, to South Burlington.

To support the new line, in addition to an existing one running from New Haven to Essex, VELCO wants to build a new 345-kilovolt line -- three times the capacity of the existing line, from West Rutland to New Haven.

New Haven's lawyer, James Dumont, asked that the 345-kV line and changes planned for the New Haven substation be considered separately from the rest of the Northwest Reliability Project, and it was this request that the board rejected.

While New Haven has been perhaps the most outspoken community along the proposed route with its concerns about the new power lines, other towns have been in closed-door talks with VELCO about possible changes in their communities to limit environmental and aesthetic impacts, Mace said.

Mace would not identify the towns or reveal the substance of the talks, but said they could result in agreements on route changes being put before the board.

He said VELCO had not asked the towns to keep the talks secret, adding that some of the towns involved wanted to do so in order to protect their negotiating positions.