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Final appearance of VELCO lines being debated

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — The final appearance of the Vermont Electric Power Co.’s 115-kilovolt line between New Haven and South Burlington is now being decided in negotiations before the Public Service Board (PSB) that include VELCO, towns, individual residents and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC).

At stake are the locations and appearance of major substations in Vergennes and Ferrisburgh, the heights of poles at many road crossings and near some homes, the placement of poles and guy wires in residents’ yards and fields, and the amount of landscaping VELCO will provide to screen its 115-kV line in many places.

On Feb. 24 VELCO submitted to the PSB its preliminary design for the 27-mile 115-kV line. The timetable originally called for public comment and VELCO’s responses to be filed by April 3. That deadline has already been pushed back twice, to April 10 and April 24, and VELCO project manager Tom Dunn said another adjustment is possible.

“What we want to do is submit plans to the Public Service Board that have the fewest number possible of unresolved issues,� Dunn said. “That date might get pushed back a little bit more.�

That news is welcome in at least some quarters. Vergennes City Manager Renny Perry said VELCO has been responsive to the city’s concerns, including in agreeing to re-route the main line around the city center. But, Perry said, the timetable has left towns and residents scrambling to respond after the Feb. 24 filing.

“I’m optimistic that VELCO will be responsive to most of these things if there’s enough time,� Perry said. “The schedule is a little too aggressive for the towns to respond in a reasonable manner.�

POLE HEIGHTS AT ISSUE

ACRPC head Adam Lougee said VELCO dealt well with concerns on the 345-kV portion of its Northwest Reliability Project, which runs between West Rutland and New Haven (see related story, Page 1A). However, he said, changes could be more problematic in the more densely populated surroundings of the 115-kV line.

Pole heights were a given along the 345-kV line, but Lougee said VELCO’s 115-kV proposal did not contain as many adjustments to pole heights as observers had expected.

“The 345 poles are big, and we realized they would be big,� he said. “In the case of the 115 line they said a lot of the 115 line would be short, and the filing doesn’t bear that out as much.�

Many of the pole-height and substation issues are outlined in an eight-page April 3 memorandum from ACRPC to the PSB. The memo was written, for the most part, by an ACRPC “aesthetic consultant,� landscape architect Jean Vissering.

It outlined pole-height concerns at a series of intersections in Ferrisburgh and near Plank Road in New Haven. The Ferrisburgh issues with pole heights include where the lines will cross Route 7, Tuppers Crossing, and South Middlebrook, Reed, Monkton, Botsford, Little Chicago, and Town Line roads. Also at issue are poles that would run along Greenbush Road.

In all those cases proposed pole heights range between 66 and 107 feet. Dunn pledged that VELCO would do what it could to address those concerns.

“We may not be able to do everything that people are asking. But we do want to engage them in a collaborative manner about the issues,� Dunn said. “We will … do what we can do to change heights and placements.�

In some cases VELCO may be limited by the National Electric Safety Code, which sets standards for, among other elements, how low wires may hang over roadways. Dunn said in at least some cases VELCO could move poles closer to eliminate lines’ sagging over roadways, and in other cases place more poles along the line to lower heights.

“We’re doing a lot of different things,� Dunn said.

SUBSTATIONS

Substations are another critical issue. Still to be decided in Vergennes is where a line from the main 115-kV line will run to a new substation that will be built near Kayhart Crossing, and exactly where that substation will be sited.

Perry said the city’s goal is that the substation be invisible from Route 22A as it enters the northeast corner of Vergennes.  

“Our objective is to make it so you can’t see it from there,� he said.

In the ACRPC memo Vissering recommends moving the substation as far as possible to the southwest away from the Kayhart Crossing railroad overpass. The land drops off there and would help keep the substation out of the line of sight, and the facility could be built into the slope and screened with a berm and/or white pines.

As far as running a line from the 115-kV line to the new substation, city and VELCO officials are now eyeing one that would start where the railroad tracks cross the city’s eastern boundary. That spot is in a wooded area not far from the American Legion clubhouse and a parcel of land owned by Housing Vermont that is being considered for an elderly and affordable housing complex.

From there the line would cross Route 22A/North Main Street not far from the Vergennes Animal Hospital, continue westward and then swing northward to the substation.

Vissering wrote that this route would “generally result in less visual clutter along Route 22A,� and Perry said that if the line was properly located existing trees would screen it from the Legion clubhouse and the proposed Housing Vermont project.

“It is the preferred route for VELCO, and it seems to be of all the alternatives the better one,� Perry said.

As for the Ferrisburgh substation off Long Point Road, also known as Stage Road, the ACPRC memo notes that it is “the only substation along the route that VELCO has failed to propose to move back away from the road. The Town of Ferrisburgh favors Jean Vissering’s testimony that the substation be moved back from Long Point Road (about 100 feet).�

The memo also requests that it be a “low-profile station,� that surrounding pole heights should be lowered, that substantial pine and spruce plantings should screen the substation.

HOMES AND POLES

ACRPC also speaks for five Ferrisburgh households in its memo. Issues include:

• A 92-foot pole proposed for a South Middlebrook Road yard that would also mean guy wires in a driveway and right next to a home.

• A long stretch of the line that would be unscreened for a home off South Middlebrook Road.

• Poles that would be placed near a Tuppers Crossing home.

• Cutting proposed for a property that the line does not cross, something the memo said “may be a mapping error.�

• The location of the line near a Botsford Road driveway.

Lougee said there is precedent along the 345-kV line for VELCO making the kinds of changes that would address towns’ and residents’ concerns.

“Once they (VELCO) knew they were getting the (345-kV) line, they were pretty responsive, and I hope they will be also with the 115 line,� Lougee said. “But the height of the poles will be a little bit harder issue.�

Dunn said VELCO will answer as many of the concerns as possible as quickly as possible.

“It’s 27 miles of line, and we’ve been moving as fast as we can,� he said.

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