VELCO proposes power line route changes

By David Gram, Associated Press Writer, 2/6/2004

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The company seeking to build new, high-voltage power lines up the west side of Vermont proposed changes in the originally planned route on Friday, changes that were expected to placate some, but far from all, opponents of the project.

"We're pleased," said Craig Miner, chairman of a Vergennes committee that had been fighting the earlier route through a historic district in the city's downtown. "Unfortunately it does affect somebody else."

That somebody else are residents in the town of neighboring Ferrisburgh, one of whom lives in a home that will have the power lines cross directly overhead, said Chester Hawkins, a member of a Ferrisburgh committee following power line issues.

"From a regional point of view it would appear to be a good idea," Hawkins said. "It does get it out of downtown historic Vergennes where there's much more population."

One of Hawkins' concerns, though, is that Ferrisburgh residents newly in the path of the revised power line route won't have enough time to prepare for Public Service Board hearings on the project, set to begin later this month.

The town has asked the board to delay the proceedings so that affected residents can hire lawyers or expert witnesses or take other steps to challenge the new route.

The Vermont Electric Power Co., the high-voltage transmission company that is owned by and supplies power to Vermont's utilities, is proposing to build the power lines as part of its Northwest Reliability Project.

That project calls for a new 345-kilovolt power line from West Rutland to New Haven and a new 115 kilovolt line from New Haven to a substation on the Burlington-South Burlington line.

On Friday, VELCO told the Public Service Board of its plans for rerouting the power lines. Proposed changes from the initial route include:

-- Vergennes-Ferrisburgh: Move the line out of downtown Vergennes and place it along a railroad right-of-way in Ferrisburgh. Build a new substation near Route 22A in the northeast section of Vergennes.

-- Ferrisburgh: Move the line west to keep it from crossing the thickly settled Little Chicago Road area.

-- Charlotte: Move the line west to get it farther away from a Waldorf school; move the Charlotte substation about 900 feet north from its current location on Ferry Road.

-- Shelburne: Move the route to keep the line farther away from the Davis Park neighborhood.

-- South Burlington: Change substation to preserve screening by trees.

-- Pole heights: Shift from a constant pole height of 79 feet to heights ranging from 62 to 91 feet. The shorter poles would be used in areas where aesthetics are an issue; the taller ones would be used in wetlands, where they could be spread farther apart.

Tom Dunn, VELCO engineer and project manager, said in an interview he believed the need for the project was emphasized in mid-January, when northwestern Vermont came within one step of a blackout.

The McNeil wood-fired generator in Burlington was out of service and the Highgate station that brings power in from Hydro-Quebec suddenly went out of service. A third blow to the system would have triggered blackouts when temperatures were about 10 degrees below zero.

"That would have been a serious public health issue," Dunn said.