Vergennes officials unanimously oppose power line plan
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES - Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday voted, 7-0, to oppose the portion of the major Vermont Electric Company power-line upgrade that is proposed to run along an existing transmission route through the heart of the Little City.
The action drew applause from a dozen city residents at the Vergennes Opera House meeting. Residents have sharply criticized the VELCO plan because of concerns about its impact on homes, businesses, people and the Otter Creek Basin area.
VELCO's proposal would replace most of the existing 35-foot poles with 61-foot poles and increase the voltage transmitted from 34 kilovolts to 115 kV, an increase that would also boost electro-magnetic field emissions.
VELCO is also proposing a new transmission substation below the Otter Creek bridge, one that would have twice the footprint of the existing facility and would double its current 30-foot height.
Aldermen, who have been criticized for doing too little to publicize the proposal and for not taking a stronger stand against it, adopted a nine-paragraph statement in opposition that had been recommended by a council-appointed study committee.
The statement concluded that "the project could have a significant impact on the health, safety, environment, aesthetic values and economy of Vergennes," and urged VELCO to "actively consider and pursue the development of a bypass alternate route for the high voltage lines."
In a split vote the week before, aldermen had declined to oppose the project. Deputy Mayor Greg Clark and Aldermen Mike Daniels had voted not to oppose it, and Mayor Kitty Oxholm let the motion die by abstaining.
Oxholm said then that she preferred to wait until the city VELCO committee met on Monday to make a recommendation and until a potentially unanimous vote could be taken.
Clark, also a committee member, said on Tuesday he was ready to cast a no vote.
"We recognize the need to upgrade the power lines, but are against the proposed power line route through Vergennes as presented by VELCO," Clark read from a prepared statement that also thanked "concerned citizens" for their input.
"I feel really good about where we've come," said Clark, also a Republican representative in the Vermont House.
VELCO must win approval from the Vermont Public Service Board for its proposal, which is part of a larger powerline upgrade from West Rutland to South Burlington. The city council will be a party to the PSB hearing process, which could result in a decision on the current or amended process by June.
Aldermen also learned on Tuesday that they will have another month to file official questions with the PSB to which VELCO must respond in the hearing process, and that the PSB has grouped Vergennes and other towns affected by the VELCO into one party for the upcoming hearings.
The city council, which the week before had filed 21 questions to meet an original Oct. 22 deadline, had asked for an extension until Nov. 21 to file more questions.
City Manager Renny Perry said he had learned earlier on Tuesday of the "consolidated party status," which means that the city will get the additional month to add questions.
The consolidation of the towns into one party should not affect the city's abilities to testify or file questions about its specific circumstances, Perry said.
"Our individual questions can be addressed individually," he said.
However, the PSB ruling also means towns may not file duplicate questions, and therefore town officials must coordinate quickly with one another.
Perry had spent the day on Tuesday touring the VELCO route from South Burlington southward along with other local town officials, PSB members, VELCO representatives, and residents.
The commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, which is charged with representing the public interest in regulated industries, also rode the tour bus and walked around sensitive sites.
Perry also said his day trip left him optimistic about the city's chances of getting changes made to the VELCO proposal.
"In my conversations with the commissioner of the Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board members, they were very, very interested in what Vergennes wants to do," Perry said. "The commissioner of the public service department was particularly interested and seemed to feel we had a unique position among the municipalities ... I think we'll get some good results from that trip."
Aldermen and committee members also urged residents to attend council and committee meetings. The VELCO committee is scheduled to meet at city hall every Monday at 7 p.m., and the council will meet again this coming Tuesday at 7 p.m.
At their meeting this past Tuesday, aldermen also:
· Heard from Perry that the city's joint grant application with the owners of the Ryan Block had been approved. The Downtown Development board granted about $65,000 toward a roughly $130,000 project to install a handicap-access platform along the front of the building.
The city will kick in $20,000 toward the project, which will include sidewalk repair, with the building owners funding the rest. The plan's design is similar to that used by the nearby Stone and Basin blocks.
· Agreed to a allow Addison Northwest Supervisory Union personnel to meet for occasional training sessions in the basement of the city fire station.