Vergennes officials pose big questions for VELCO power line planners


VERGENNES - In a special meeting on Oct. 21, Vergennes aldermen approved a list of 21 detailed questions that Vermont Electric Company must answer in hearings in front of the Public Service Board, which will eventually rule on the fate of a proposed VELCO power-line upgrade that would go through the heart of the city.

The VELCO plan calls for taller poles carrying more power, which in the city would run mostly in an existing power line corridor. The firm's larger plans include a transmission-line upgrade between West Rutland and New Haven and north to South Burlington through Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Charlotte and Shelburne.

Questions approved by aldermen focused on the project's impact on the city's appearance, economy, property values and residents' health. Aldermen also asked if VELCO has or would consider alternate routes.

Aldermen also requested that the Public Service Board grant the city another month to submit more questions about the controversial project, which has generated heated opposition in Vergennes.

"(There) is evidence that adjoining property owners to the project were not notified" of the proposal or of a chance to learn more about it at a Sept. 30 hearing in Charlotte, said City Manager Renny Perry.

Perry said the Nov. 21 date already exists in the PSB schedule as a deadline for "secondary interveners" to supply questions. Vergennes is considered a primary intervener with an Oct. 22 deadline because it applied for party status this summer, relatively early in the process.

City officials believe the PSB can accommodate their request without slowing the board's overall schedule.

"That's the last opportunity for anybody to have questions in," Perry said. "We're saying we don't want a new date, just let us submit ... additional questions."

Aldermen also considered on Oct. 21 an impromptu motion that they should go on record as opposing the project as currently proposed, but took no action because votes were split.

Aldermen Chris Pettibon, April Jin and Lucille LeBeau voted in favor of a motion to oppose the project as proposed, while Deputy Mayor Greg Clark and Alderman Michael Daniels voted against the motion. Mayor Kitty Oxholm could have cast a decisive fourth vote, but declined to do so. Four votes constitute a majority for the seven-person board.

But Oxholm said her decision does not mean she favors the project. Oxholm said she wanted to wait until the council-appointed committee that is studying the VELCO project does more work, and also that "that's what Mike and Greg thought."

Oxholm said she believes the council will eventually take a stronger stand than it would have by approving the Oct. 21 resolution in a 4-2 vote.

"I decided not to vote because I thought that I wanted to wait until it can be a unanimous vote," Oxholm said. "My thought was a couple members weren't ready to vote for it, but I think that eventually will happen."


Most of the questions aldermen approved were written by the VELCO study committee. Many questions came out of a committee meeting that followed the heated Oct. 20 forum at the Vergennes Opera House at which more than 100 local residents criticized the power-line proposal.

The list of questions asks that:

· VELCO document its efforts to reach affected property owners, many of whom in Vergennes have said they were never notified.

· VELCO show evidence it considered alternate routes, including along the railroad line that goes through the northeast corner of the city, and if so why they were rejected. Aldermen also focus on an existing power line route through Hinesburg and Monkton and question why that was not chosen.

· VELCO discuss the logistics and costs of burying the line through Vergennes rather than run it overhead.

· VELCO provide any information that it has about the impact of the project on city property values, including a comparison of the relative effects of above- and below-ground lines.

· VELCO respond specifically to the project's economic impact on the Otter Creek basin area below the falls, as well as on "residential and commercial areas" through which it would pass.

· VELCO provide, if one were done, a study on the potential environmental hazard of a larger power substation proposed for the basin area.

· VELCO respond to how it evaluated the health risk of electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) generated by power lines on the densely populated area of Vergennes.

Several questions were added or altered at the request of about 10 citizens who attended the council's Oct. 21 meeting, including two questions on the impact on "residential and commercial areas" and one on impact of EMFs on the values of properties near the route.

Oxholm said the changes showed that the council, which has come under fire for doing to little to publicize the project this summer, is considering residents' viewpoints.

"People were listening to each other and making suggestions," Oxholm said. "It was a productive meeting."

Residents appreciated that aldermen listened, but some at the meeting still feel the council needs to make up for lost ground.

"They were relatively open to the suggestions," said resident Page Guertin. "It's a long way to go, but they're headed in the right direction."