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Ferrisburgh, VELCO working to resolve power line issues

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

FERRISBURGH — The Vermont Electric Power Co. has fixed one problem with its new transmission line that Ferrisburgh selectmen called “shocking and offensive” in a Feb. 28 letter, and the town’s VELCO committee head believes the company will address two more: the visual impact of a 70-foot-tall structure near Vergennes and of guy wires on Route 7 power poles.

VELCO, which is in the midst of installing a major power line from West Rutland to South Burlington, last week removed a pole it had installed near Greenbush Road to hold an osprey nest. Selectmen and town VELCO volunteer Larry Keyes backed resident Bob Houghton’s contention that it blocked the runway of his private airport. The company ultimately agreed and took it away on April 1, Keyes said.

Still to be resolved are how and whether VELCO will shield the roughly 15 guy wires that hold up poles where the new line crosses Route 7 east of Vergennes, and mitigate the appearance of what selectmen said is the unexpectedly tall double-pole structure on a ridge not far from the new Vergennes substation.

Keyes said VELCO officials have been responsive in his direct talks about those two outstanding issues from selectmen’s Feb. 28 letter to the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), which approved and is overseeing the erection of the big new VELCO power line, which passes through Addison County.

The main problem with the guy wires, he said, are the yellow safety guards that cover their bottom six or eight feet. VELCO officials have told him they are willing to plant shrubbery to shield the safety guards, and although that assurance is not in writing Keyes said the company has made good on similar pledges in the past.

As for the double-pole structure, Keyes has recommended taller plantings around it to “break up the silhouette on the ridge” and reduce its visual impact. Similarly, he believes VELCO will go along with the town’s suggestions, as they have in the past when, for example, it agreed to move the North Ferrisburgh substation away from Long Point Road.

“I’m very optimistic because in my discussions with VELCO officials they agreed it would be a good thing to do, if not this spring, then next spring in the post-construction mitigation (phase),” Keyes said.

Meanwhile, selectmen and VELCO officials also disagree whether those parts of those projects were accurately portrayed to the town.

Selectmen in their Feb. 28 letter to the PSB wrote “the appearance of some of those structures is not as we expected. The structures may not be in conformance with the Board’s final approved design.”

VELCO attorney Megan Ludwig of Burlington firm Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC responded to Ferrisburgh’s concerns in a March 31 letter to the PSB.

Ludwig cited specific documents with various 2006 and 2007 dates that she said showed the structures were all consistent with “approved engineering plans.”

But selectmen remain unhappy because they believe VELCO may have given them a different set of plans to review than those that Ludwig cited.

Selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen cannot be sure they saw different plans, but what is on the ground where the line crosses Route 7 and on a ridge near the substation does not look like what they saw on paper.

“It sounds like there are two sets of maps, but it hasn’t been proven. But that’s the theory,” Lawrence said. “We never saw the set they gave to the state.”

Keyes said there appear to be two sets of documents, but called the maps “not that much different.”

The real problem, he said, is that it is difficult for the layperson to look at the diagrams and imagine what the finished product will be like.

Keyes said even on the second set of maps each of the guy wires at the Route 7 crossing just looks like a “smudge,” for example.

On the other hand, he believes the double-pole structure near the substation may have been fairly represented.

“The poles by the substation were accurately depicted, I would say, but the guy wires at the crossing on Route 7 were difficult to see … even on the new ones (maps),” he said.

Overall, Keyes and Lawrence both said they are optimistic VELCO will be responsive to the town’s concerns as the project progresses. But Lawrence also made it clear selectmen would remain watchful through the next phases, which include installing the tallest of the steel poles and stringing lines between poles. 

“We’re just going to stay tuned,” Lawrence said. “We’ve made a point that we’re still watching VELCO very carefully.”

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