Saturday, February 07, 2004

VELCO to move lines to bypass towns

By Matt Crawford
Free Press Staff Writer
SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Vermont Electric Power Co. will change the route and retool some substations of a proposed multimillion-dollar power line upgrade planned for northwestern Vermont.
Power lines the utility had proposed to wind through downtown Vergennes will be shifted east into Ferrisburgh, officials said Friday. VELCO also will move substations proposed for Charlotte, Ferrisburgh and Vergennes; lower some pole heights in Charlotte, Ferrisburgh and Shelburne; and redesign a substation in South Burlington.
"The reason we're making these changes is really in response to the concerns we've heard from the communities who are affected by the transmission proposal," said Tom Dunn of VELCO.
The proposed changes are part of the Northwest Vermont Reliability Project. The $130 million project includes new and bigger power lines among West Rutland and South Burlington, Barre and Williamstown, as well as improvements to 13 substations. Construction would be undertaken in 21 Vermont towns in what will be the largest electric transmission project in Vermont in two decades.
VELCO owns and operates Vermont's high-voltage electric transmission system. It is owned by Vermont's electric utilities.
The revised proposal involves moving a 115,000-volt line from the center of Vergennes into Ferrisburgh along a railroad bed. A number of Vergennes residents and businesses were fearful of the visual and health impacts of a high-voltage line running through the village.
"When it was first proposed we had a tremendous uproar over this whole thing," said Renny Perry, Vergennes' city manager. "We just had a forum to explain the re-routes and the reaction is almost the opposite. Comparatively, it's such an improvement -- not only do we not have high-tension lines coming through the city, but in some areas where we used to have lines coming in, they're actually going to be removed."
Some Ferrisburgh residents who live along the newly proposed power line route reacted angrily to the revision.
"We are irate, not to mention scared," said Ferrisburgh's Dana Cray. "I supported the city of Vergennes. I didn't want to see it go through the city, but I didn't know it was going to end up in my front yard. We've basically become a dumping ground."
VELCO's revisions do not include running power lines underground -- a move that that had been requested by some towns along the route.
Dunn said burying the lines would be far too costly, but added that putting in lower poles might appease some of the towns worried about the visual drawbacks of high voltage wires.
"The change of the structure height will of course be helpful in terms of addressing the aesthetic impacts," Dunn said.
In Charlotte, the line will be moved a half mile around the Waldorf School and in Shelburne the proposed line would be removed from the Davis Park neighborhood.
Dunn said the proposed changes would add about $1 million to the cost of the project.
Friday's announcement came five days before Vermont's Public Service Board opens technical hearings on the proposed project. The board is expected to decide by June 30 if the project should proceed.
"We really feel like we've been denied our due process," Cray said. "We're not even mentioned in the upcoming testimony. We just found out about this and we're supposed to try and respond intelligently? We have not received the same amount of time that other people have to prepare for these hearings."
Dunn said additional testimony, including that from newly involved parties, would likely be taken in mid-April.
"We want the people who are affected by this project to have the opportunity to offer their opinions and express their concerns to the Public Service Board as appropriate," Dunn said.
Contact Matt Crawford at 651-4852 or