Sparks fly at hearing on transmission line

Nov 14, 2017 by

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — Despite a number of posted public meetings and several stories in this newspaper, many of those in attendance at last night’s public hearing at Wakefield Memorial High said that they had little or no advance knowledge of National Grid’s plan to run 3.5 miles of underground 345 KV electrical transmission cable through Wakefield.

The major concerns voiced at last night’s public hearing before the Board of Selectmen fell into two main categories: alleged inadequacy in the notification process and health concerns from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from electrical transmission cables.

The hearing at The Savings Bank Theatre began with a presentation from National Grid officials, who explained that the Wakefield proposal was part of a larger project that involves laying 8.5 miles of underground transmission cable from the Eversource substation in Woburn through Winchester, Stoneham and Wakefield, ending at the National Grid Substation on Montrose Avenue. The other towns are served by Eversource. The applicant for the Wakefield project is National Grid.

The purpose of the project, according to National Grid in-house counsel Bess Gorman, is to assure a reliable electrical transmission grid in the region and avoid future blackouts.

National Grid brought a large team of attorneys, engineers and other experts to respond to questions at last night’s hearing.

In Wakefield, the proposed route of the project would come down Albion Street and Broadway, cross North Avenue and then follow the abandoned railroad bed for approximately one mile, running across Bennett Street, Richardson Street and Water Street. The line would then turn down Salem Street to Montrose Avenue and up the access road to the National Grid substation.

National Grid Project Manager Dick Jones said that the proposed route of the project is presently before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) and a decision is anticipated next month.

Jones went through what he described as “benefits” that the town would realize as a result of this project. Those include, according to Jones, a $58.5 million infrastructure investment, $1.6 million in additional property tax revenue in the first year and a total of $7.3 million in additional tax revenue over the first 5 years.

In addition, Jones said, National grid will provide curb to curb repaving on all streets that the transmission line runs under, replacement of 4,200 feet of WMLGD steel gas line on Salem Street, a paved access road along the rail bed (that will double as part of a future rail trail route) and a new sound wall at the Montrose substation.

Jones said that over the past two years National Grid had been working with the Wakefield Municipal Gas & Light Department, the DPW and other town officials in preparation for the proposed work. A public hearing was held last month before the Conservation Commission.

If approved, the transmission line in expected to be in service by June 2019.

Selectman Edward Dombroski noted that with regard to the health risks posed by EMFs from transmission lines, the best that anyone could claim is that the relationship is “inconclusive.” He wanted to know if National Grid would be willing to pay for a consultant of the town’s choosing to represent the town’s interests. He noted that Eversource had agreed to such an arrangement with the town of Stoneham.

Danielle Aretz, Natiional Grid’s Stakeholder Relations specialist, noted that Wakefield abutters to the project had had an opportunity to be part of the process at hearings and through newspaper ads, door-to-door contact and mail notifications. She indicated that those efforts did not reveal high levels of public concern related to the project.

Dombroski wasn’t pursuaded.

“If everyone is so saitisfied,” he asked, “why do we have a theater full of people here tonight?” He asked again about National Grid’s willingness to fund a consultant.

Gorman said that she didn’t see how doing that would fit in at this point, as the EFSB is already working on a decision.

Dombroski countered that there was “a lot at stake here. I think we need to be evenly matched.”

Gorman said that no town had ever made such a request before and she noted that there was an opportunity for the town to have made that request two years ago. She said that she would have to take the request back to National Grid.

Selectman Ann Santos asked for details about the underground construction.

National Grid Engineer Dave Campilli said that conduit would be run in a trench and those conduits would be encased in concrete. He said that conduits would be arranged in such a way as to provide as much electromagnetic field cancellation as possible.

Selectman Brian Falvey asked for a comparison of the EMFs emitted by the transmission cable to that of common household appliances.

National Grid consultant Dr. Peter Valberg said that being in close proximity to a household appliance would cause more EMF exposure than standing directly above the buried transmission line.

Christina Perlak of Vernon Street claimed that the route of the project runs right behind her house and she was “barely notified” about the project. She asked National Grid reps if they would allow their own children to play in top of an underground transmission line. They responded that they would.

Another resident cited a National Cancer Institute study linking proximity to electrical transmission lines and increased leukemia rates.

Valberg insisted that there was no scientifically proven mechanism that shows a causal link. Evidence collected over many years shows the risk to be “unlikely,” he said.

Michael Labieniec of Stony Hill Way asked about the “hum” from the substation, which he said was directly behind his house.

Aretz said that the new sound wall should mitigate the the sound coming from the substation.

Richard Stewart of Salem Street said that “hundreds” of residents who should have been notified were not. He claimed that last night was the first meeting that residents had been invited to.

Falvey said that there was no reason the town couldn’t still have more public forums, even though it was late in the game.

Stewart insisted that a different route should have been chosen. He claimed that a decision was already a done deal, “and now you want to have meetings. I’m deeply disappointed in my elected officials.”

Water Street’s Bob McLaughlin expressed concern over the underground transmission line and its proximity to other town-owned utilities. He maintained that it would lead to problems down the road and cost the town money in the long run.

Sean Margerison of Salem Street quoted from studies linking EMFs from high voltage transmission lines to cancer. He insisted that New Salem Street would have been a better route, as it has fewer homes than Salem Street.

CJ Loews said of Bennett Street said that he only found out about the project through social media.

“There’s a flaw in your notification system,” he said.

Selectman Ann Santos pointed out that National Grid had made a presentation two years ago at a posted, open public meeting of the Board of selectmen. She said that if the board had heard some of the concerns at that time they would have addressed them.

Falvey agreed.

“We had a public meeting two years ago and nobody seemed to care,” he said. The project was made public, he said, but “nobody picked up on it.” He insisted that it was not too late to have more public forums.

Another resident read from a document submitted to the EFSB on behalf of the town that indicated that “the parties had come to an agreement” on the preferred route for the project in March of 2015, before the initial public meeting was held in April of 2015.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that his office had received only one call from a citizen in advance of that first public meeting and had only received only four or five calls from concerned residents right up until yesterday.

Eric Garfield of Broadway said that he was “extremely alarmed” to learn that he would have a high voltage line running within 20 feet of his front door.

Jennifer Aruda of Bugli Lane insisted that every family with a child at the Galvin Middle School should have been notified of the project, as the line will pass close by the school.

Derek Gerry of Broadway said that he had worked in the energy industry. He maintained that town officials should have known something was amiss with public awareness when they weren’t hearing from residents.

“If you have a project like this and you don’t have a lot of people putting up their hands,” he said, “something’s wrong.” He questioned the outreach efforts on the part of both National Grid and the town.

Based on the level of concern, Selectman Peter May, who chaired last night’s hearing, suggested continuing the hearing to another date. Falvey urged in the meantime that the town should organize another public forum where residents can come and express their concerns.

The question was again raised as to whether National Grid would fund a consultant to work on the town’s behalf.

Gorman indicated that she was inclined to say “yes,” but still needed to bring it back to National Grid for an official decision.

The selectmen formed a subcommittee of Dombroski, Santos and Tony Longo to meet and come up with some recommendations for a consultant.

The board voted to continue the hearing to Dec. 11.

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