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Ferrisburgh selectmen unanimously support VELCO hearings

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August 27, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectmen last week voted unanimously to ask the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to hold hearings on the Vermont Electric Power Co.’s proposal to use a 24-acre Route 7 parcel near Ferrisburgh town offices for a staging area for its power line project. That site could be in use as soon as next month if the PSB approves the plan.

Selectmen went on record in the spring as opposing VELCO’s use of the site, which is just south of the burned-down Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and across Route 7 from the Little Otter General Store. They said they were concerned about traffic safety, noise, appearance and possible contamination by PCBs, toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of some transformers and capacitors.

Town zoning officials do not have jurisdiction over the VELCO proposal, however. The PSB oversees all public utilities, including the VELCO power line that will run through Ferrisburgh and other county towns, and has the final say over the worksite and other project details.

On Aug. 21, Larry Keyes, Ferrisburgh’s volunteer point man in the town’s dealings with VELCO, said VELCO wanted to move quickly to seal a deal with landowners Greg and Sue Burdick for what the company calls a “laydown area.” VELCO would store up to 40 wooden and 30 steel poles and other equipment and machinery on the site for up to two years if it gets PSB approval.

But PSB officials told Keyes that they would consider a request from Ferrisburgh officials for hearings.

“It looks like VELCO is going to go ahead and put the laydown area in Ferrisburgh unless we can go before the Public Service Board and win,” Keyes told selectmen last week.

Selectmen are not sure they can stop VELCO’s plans at this point, but said they at least want to ensure the company will follow guidelines to minimize the impact of the worksite.

Selectman Jim Warden said he looked into VELCO’s practices at a smaller site in New Haven and found the company had not followed through on promises, specifically on neat stacking of poles.

“They don’t stick to what they say,” Warden said.

Selectman John DeVos said if the plan cannot be halted that specific safeguards are needed.

“We need to make sure we are assured they will comply with everything we request of them,” DeVos said. “I think the state has made up its mind. We need to make sure it’s done right.”

VELCO is looking for quick action from the PSB on the Burdick site. A July 18 letter from Burlington law firm Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC requested “expeditious approval” of the site because VELCO “anticipates receiving wood poles and other construction materials in September” in order to begin work this fall.

A July 12 memorandum to the PSB from VELCO project manager Rick Hollenbaugh said “Timely PSB approval” is “critical to maintain the current project schedule.”

That memo also states VELCO “conducted an exhaustive search” and examined more than 40 properties before settling on the Burdick site.

Keyes said he was not so sure how exhaustive that search was. He said one VELCO official told him the company was intimidated by the level of opposition in Shelburne and Charlotte and only then looked to Ferrisburgh.

“VELCO got scared and came to Ferrisburgh,” Keyes said. “They were afraid for their equipment and personnel.”

One citizen at the meeting suggested that VELCO instead consider the more northerly site owned by the Agency of Transportation just south of Stage Road, also on Route 7.

Keyes said he was told the AOT did not want that site used because it might build a long-planned, but long-delayed, highway maintenance depot and truck weigh station there in the next two years.

But AOT communications director John Zicconi told the Independent in July that the agency’s competing financial needs, including $1.3 million of pressing maintenance needed for existing facilities over the next two years, made it unlikely the Ferrisburgh depot would be built soon.

“The project remains a project,” Zicconi said in late July “But there is no timetable for it at this time.”

Ferrisburgh Town Clerk Chet Hawkins said the selectboard’s request for hearings on the VELCO worksite was being funneled through the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC). At last week’s meeting, selectmen chose Keyes, Warden, ACRPC head Adam Lougee and selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence to testify at hearings if the PSB agrees to hold them.

Any sale or lease of the Burdick land to VELCO would also involve Ferrisburgh Roadhouse owners Marcos and Claudia Llona, Greg Burdick said in July, because the Llonas, who bought their restaurant from the Burdicks, also have an option to buy the land.

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