Shelburne News
November 13, 2003

VELCO in Shelburne

After much work and study, the Shelburne VELCO subcommittee and the Shelburne Selectboard members seem to be reaching consensus on a possible acceptible outcome for the power line upgrade in Shelburne.  The position of the Selectboard and the direction to the VELCO subcommittee has been that the Town will not address the need for the power line upgrade, but instead will focus on siting and construction issues.  Shelburne has several very unique siting issues as follows:  (1) the proximity of many habitable structures to the proposed line (and related health, public safety and adverse financial impact issues),  (2) the presence of two National Historic Landmark properties (the Ticonderoga at The Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms) and federal legislation which protects the viewsheds from such properties, and (3) scenic lakefront vistas which could be adversely impacted by overhead power lines and which are visible both from land and from the lake.  In addition, it could be extremely costly for VELCO to obtain easements from Shelburne property owners which will be needed in connection with the placement of overhead lines in certain neighborhoods due to the high property values within town.  If the lines in such areas were placed underground, there might be some cost savings associated with obtainingthe easements.
    With these issues in mind, we have focused our efforts on working both with the Department of Public Service and senior management at VELCO to explore having selected portions of the line through Shelburne placed underground or rerouted, rather than being placed overhead per the current proposal.  The subcommittee and the Selectboard have identified the following areas as potentially appropriate for undergrounding and/or rerouting: (1) the property within the viewshed of the Shelburne Museum, (2) the Davis Park neighborhood and (3) the area from Bay Road north to approximately the South Burlington  line along the railroad tracks.  Undergrounding is a complex issue as it is considerably more expensive than placing lines overhead.  However, if there are cost savings associated with undergrounding (having to do with purchasing easements and the like), then the cost differential might be lower than originally anticipated.  In addition, if lines are placed underground using the best available technology, then health concerns associated with EMF's might be reduced.
Last week, Steve Dates, chair of the Selectboard, Joyce Errecart (one of our representatives in the Legislature) and I met with David O'Brien, commissioner of the Department of Public Service (the state agency charged with representing the public's interests in utility matters such as this), to discuss the Town's concerns and suggestions.  Mr. O'Brien was receptive to our approach, but said that these concerns must beviewed in light of the Department's primary focus on obtaining inexpensive and reliable electricity for all Vermont ratepayers.  We then spoke with VELCO about our interest in the possibility of undergrounding portions of the Shelburne corridor.  They suggested we have another site walk with Tom Dunn, the VELCO project manager, to focus on the above "sensitive" corridor areas, which we will be doing this week.  We have requested that VELCO provide us with specific cost comparison information for placing lines above ground in these areas versus underground so we will have an accurate idea of the cost differential.
Ultimately the decision as to whether to place the lines above ground or underground in various parts of Shelburne will be made by the Public Service Board as part of the regulatory hearing process which is scheduled to start in February, 2004. Accordingly, we have limited time to resolve these issues and we are all working very intensively on the matter. However, it is our hope that by working collaboratively with the Department of Public Service, VELCO and Shelburne community members, that we can assure that the project will be done in the best possible manner for the community as a whole, both short term and long term.  Essentially, our focus is to make sure that the project is "done right the first time".  I will continue to provide updates on this very important process as we go forward and again want to thank many members of our Shelburne community for all of their time and effort in working with us.  If we achieve an optimum outcome for the project in our town, it will be because of all of our effort and creative input.