December 18, 2006
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Christmas came a little early this year for owners of Werner’s Tree Farm in Middlebury.
Their gift came last week in the form of a brief letter from the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), stating the company would not be targeting the tree farm for construction of its new transmission line until after the holidays.
The news came as a relief to David and Cheryl Werner, who had seen VELCO mobilize construction equipment at the edge of their property on Painter Road. VELCO owns a substantial right of way through the Werners’ property, which lies squarely within the route of the Northwest Reliability Project, a project building a huge new transmission line from West Rutland to Burlington.
Given the recent arrival equipment virtually on their doorstep, the Werners had feared that VELCO crews would move in this month, during the shank of their Christmas trees sales season. The couple had asked VELCO to wait until after Dec. 25 before starting a project that will undoubtedly destroy some of their trees.
“Due to delays we have experienced in getting across the Grice property, I am confident that my construction team will not be performing construction on pole structure 244, prior to Dec. 25, 2006,” reads a letter to the Werners, signed by Robert Hoover, VELCO’s line project construction manager.
The Grice property to which Hoover was referring involves a neighboring parcel that is also within the Northwest Reliability Project route. VELCO has not yet been able to purchase the additional right-of-way easement it needs from the Grice family. The company has initiated condemnation proceedings for the property, an action the Grices have been fighting. The Vermont Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday, Dec. 14.
Werner estimates he would have lost $8,000 in sales had he been forced to close his business this past weekend due to VELCO construction. As it was, one lane of Painter Road was closed for a period on Saturday. He said he is pleased the company will apparently wait until the Christmas tree season is over.
“I’m relieved,” David Werner said. “I just wish they had done it two-and-a-half weeks ago. Life has not been very pleasant around here.”
VELCO Spokesman Kerrick Johnson confirmed the agreement, adding the company has paid boarding expenses for the Werners’ horses, which have been stressed by the construction equipment, and is “developing a compensation package for trees in the easement we may damage.”