ORLEANS — Members of the conservation commission got two earfuls each of neighborhood opposition June 20 to Eversource's plan to relocate distribution lines from over Cedar Pond to above residential streets.
No one from the public spoke in support of the plan for foiling the soiling of the pond caused by excretions of roosting cormorants. The utility proposed relocating the lines to Canal, Cedar Pond, Jones, Locust, and Rock Harbor roads, requiring installation of taller and wider support poles.
The commission, asked to rule on a request for a determination of applicability (RDA), voted unanimously for a negative finding. A positive finding could have led to Eversource filing a notice of intent, a more demanding requirement.
Conservation Administrator John Jannell said RDAs are usually determined at regular commission meetings, not public hearings. He encouraged Eversource to appear at Tuesday's hearing so the utility and the board could hear from the public.
Steve Shervanian of Locust Road said the plan would “industrialize the aesthetics” of his neighborhood. If the cormorants moved with the lines, he said, “the guano dropped on Cedar Pond will be dropped on my and my neighbors' homes.” He repeated his call for Eversource to bury the lines, and said the cost differential was not large.
“This rises to the level of a notice of intent,” David Lyttle told the board. The town moderator, speaking as a private citizen, said members didn't have all the facts they needed to make an informed decision. “To quickly issue a negative determination is not in the best interests of the town,” he said.
Leading off the meeting, Matthew Waldrip, an environmental engineer with Eversource, defended the relocation plan. “We looked at alternatives,” he said. “This route is the most effective, with the least environmental impact.”
Waldrip said the new poles would be as high as 42 feet above the ground, replacing existing poles that range up to 35 feet. Diameters would increase from 12 to 15 inches at the base to 15 to 18 inches. “You may not even notice the difference,” he suggested.
The commission's determination would be a “first step,” said Waldrip, who noted that the utility would “need relief from third parties” to accomplish the work. In addition, an overall agreement is being worked out between the town and Eversource. That pact could be revisited if the cormorants are drawn to the relocated lines.
Several commissioners spoke directly to the audience to describe the board's limited scope of authority, but some in the audience clearly expected members to do more.
Attorney Alex Rodolakis, external counsel for Eversource, reviewed the options the utility had pursued. He said burying the lines under Cedar Pond would be cost-prohibitive and was a non-starter with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which dislikes dredging that may disturb such ecosystems. There were “a lot of issues,” he said, in attempting to string the lines over or along Route 6, and other locations had significant wetlands issues.
Eversource is upgrading distribution lines on local streets from 4kV (kilovolts) to 25kV anyway, the attorney said, so similar work would be done at some point.
“They've already started upgrading to 25kV along Route 28,” said commissioner Judith Bruce, who admitted her “strong dislike” for utility poles and her inability to understand “why there's not a greater citizen outcry to bury the lines.” In fact, she said, “I could not find even one person in town who noticed” the change on Route 28. “I'm pretty sure it's because (they've become like) wallpaper.” While she can “totally understand people being upset,” Bruce said, the changes come “from all of us wanting more and more power.”
Two of the roads where work will be done are state-designated scenic roads: Locust and Rock Harbor. The planning board will schedule a hearing on that portion of the project.