Some feel overlooked in VELCO decision

By Sam Hemingway
Free Press Staff Writer
Feb. 1, 2004

Dick Poulin peeked out of the window of his tidy, single-wide mobile home in Charlotte on Monday morning and pointed to a bird feeder 100 feet to the west.

"That's where the power line would go," he said. "My neighbor put a blue balloon on a 70-foot string to show how high it would be and let me tell you, it was high."

And close.

As things stand now, Dick and Edna Poulin and their three neighbors living along the railroad tracks off Ferry Road in Charlotte may be the Vermonters most directly affected by the Vermont Electric Power Co. plan to put up a 115-kilovolt power line on the western side of the state.

Last week, in granting conditional approval of VELCO's plan, the state Public Service Board untangled the biggest knot the project was facing by ordering VELCO to bury a portion of line set to run through an upscale Bay Road section of Shelburne.

However, the four modest homes in the Poulin neighborhood -- he's owned and lived in all four of them during different parts of his 87 years -- didn't get the same respect. Instead, the PSB told VELCO to seek out an "acceptable overhead crossing" or face having to put the Ferry Road section underground, too.

That's progress, though. Until five months ago, no one had bothered to inform Poulin and his neighbors about VELCO's plans, even after the firm came up with an alternative route that actually covered part of their land.

"They aren't going to worry about the little fellow," Poulin mused about VELCO as he sat back in his recliner. "I don't have the money to fight those people. Maybe Shelburne Farms does."

The Poulins said they have no problem with VELCO wanting to build its power line, although they are bothered by how wasteful people are when it comes to electrical usage.

"The younger generation has always had electricity," Edna Poulin said. "They just take it for granted."

"I remember when I was 10 years old in 1927 and coming home from school to find a electric light bulb hanging from a wire in my family's farmhouse in New Haven," said Dick Poulin. "We turned it on and, holy mackerel, I thought the sun was shining in the room."

What troubles the Poulins the most about the VELCO proposal is the potential size of the electromagnetic field emanating from the high-voltage lines.

The PSB, in its decision, said the so-called EMF issue was not a concern because it dissipates so quickly. But the Poulins' concern is more personal: When Dick Poulin had heart-bypass surgery 27 years ago, the doctors left wires in his body that attach to his heart.

"I know I can't have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)," Poulin said. "I'm concerned, because an EMF is just like an MRI to me."

In December, Poulin traveled to Montpelier and testified at a PSB hearing. "'I'm an 87-year-old Vermont Yankee short of talk and stature,' I told them," he said. "I said 'If you bury the line, everybody will be happy.' "

The Poulins will not be hiring a lawyer to make that case, however. In fact, they been so inundated with paperwork since the PSB made them parties in the case in October that Dick Poulin has started burning the papers to help heat his garage.

"Who is going to read all that material?" asked Dick Poulin.

"They're going to do what they think it's best to do anyway," said Edna Poulin.

Unfortunately, they're both probably right.

Sam Hemingway is the Burlington Free Press state news columnist. To offer tips or comment, call 660-1850 or e-mail