Harwich Conservation Commission Fines Eversource $6,366

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation , Public Utilities

Eversource Energy is fined for putting a new breaker system at Lothrop Ave. substation adjacent to wetlands without filing with the conservation commission. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – Eversource Energy has agreed to pay a fine of $6,366 for doing work in a wetlands without filing for permission with the conservation commission.

The work was conducted in September when the electric company installed a new pole at the power substation located at 25 Lothrop Ave. to carry a recloser switch to reduce the size of power outages in the community.

However, given the wetland conditions at the location, a gravel pad was constructed to support the two line trucks required to install the pole. An estimated 328 square feet of the pad was constructed within bordering wetlands, but no notice of intent (NOI) was filed with the commission.

Amanda J. Houle, a senior environmental scientist with Tighe & Bond, an environmental consulting company from Bourne, was before the commission on Nov. 1 to address the after-the fact filing for Eversource. She explained that the new breaker switch would reduce the size of an outage for Harwich residents, potentially cutting in half town-wide outages.

There was little room to maneuver on the 1,600-square-foot substation site, she said. The area on the south side of the site needed to be graded and a gravel pad put in place to install the pole. There was no other location to install the pole, given the presence of overhead wires connected to the substation, she added.

There are no suitable areas nearby where Eversource can replicate wetlands and thus the utility company agreed to pay $6,366 to the commission’s fund in lieu of replication, she said. The funds allow the commission to address a more ecologically valuable restoration project elsewhere in the community.

It’s a simple project, but if a homeowner came in and wanted to do this it would certainly be something we would not permit,” said Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski of the project..

Usowski said although the regulations are lessened for the maintenance and construction for overhead and underground utilities for public utility companies, certain criteria must still be met, including providing reasonable alternatives with fewer adverse effects. She said no silt fencing was put in place and expressed concern for soil migration toward the wetlands. Houle said options for soil containment would be explored, including grading the side of the pad slope.

Commission member Wayne Coulson said the utility will not be taking the pole down. He visited the site on the day the town had four inches of rain and didn’t see any problems, he added.

But Commission member John Ketchum said Eversource failed in terms of process in a very sensitive area, adding the company put a lot of time and planning into the project and he could not understand why no one realized they would have to come to the commission. Eversource should have come to the commission with alternatives, rather than coming back later asking for forgiveness.

I don’t accept it, I’m very unhappy with it,” Ketchum said. “Yes, I like having my lights on 24/7, 365 days a year, but this is a very sensitive area. We give other people a hard time about something 50 feet from the wetlands, not intruding into the wetlands.”

This is an exception to the process, not a common practice, Houle said. The commission approved the notice of intent with a variance for activities within the 50-foot no disturb zone of wetlands.

Conservation Commission Chairman Ernest Crabtree said Eversource is usually pretty good about coming to the commission, but it got caught flat-footed on this one.

I’m disappointed by the fact that now you’ve got to raise your rates to cover another $6,000, ” Crabtree said.