By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — David and Cheryl Werner last week looked nervously upon the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) equipment that has mobilized off Painter Road, right across from their Middlebury tree farm.
They know it’s only a matter of time before that equipment springs into action, erecting a new set of transmission lines in the VELCO right-of-way that runs through their 10.4-acre property.
The Werners are desperately hoping the VELCO equipment fires up later, rather than sooner. That’s because major construction on the Werner property within the next five weeks could dramatically take the wind out of the couple’s Christmas tree sales.
“We just opened today, and we’ve already had three customers leave, because they couldn’t tag a tree,” David Werner said on Friday morning. “We can’t let them tag trees that could get run over.”
It was in 1981 that the Werners bought the rectangular lot on which they currently grow approximately 9 acres of Christmas trees. More than half of the land, according to the Werners, is located in the VELCO right-of-way. That puts them squarely within the track of VELCO’s Northwest Reliability Project, a massive transmission line upgrade from West Rutland to Burlington. The Werners’ farm will soon be pierced by a segment of a new, 345kV line that will end in New Haven.
It’s a project the Werners believe will wipe out scores of trees and potentially intimidate people from shopping at their farm this year.
The Werners received some solace when told on Friday that VELCO does not plan to use their business driveway to access the project right-of-way. Such a move, according to the Werners, would have resulted in more destruction of Christmas trees and driven away more customers.
Instead, the company hopes to access the right-of-way from an adjacent horse pasture, according to VELCO spokesman Kerrick Johnson.
“There will be minimal impact, if any, to their lawn,” Johnson said. “We’re really trying to bend over backwards to make this work.”
VELCO officials are not prepared to guarantee that work will be delayed until early next year, however. But Johnson said that work on the Werner property is expected to last but four or five days.
“There may be some impacts to the business, but we think it will be minimal,” Johnson said.
David and Cheryl Werner are skeptical that the impacts will be minimal.
“The new poles are going right in the middle of the trees,” David Werner said. “There will be a lot of trees damaged.”
It’s damage the family said it was prepared to encounter — and recover from — during the lengthy off-season. But now they may have no choice but to deal with the heavy construction equipment now, during the one month of the year when their business is at its height.
“It’s hard, with this hanging over us, to get into (the holiday spirit),” Cheryl Werner said. “It will take a huge load off my mind if it doesn’t happen before the first of the year.”