Ferrisburgh talking deal with developer of power line

FERRISBURGH — As higher profile and higher stakes talks have gone on between New Haven and the companies proposing a major new underground power line from New York state to New Haven, quieter negotiations have also been held in Ferrisburgh, another critical link in the planned 60-mile, $600 million project.
Massachusetts companies Anbaric Transmission and National Grid, the developers of the 400-megawatt Vermont Green Line, hope to bring hydro and wind power from upstate New York by cable under Lake Champlain and into the New England power grid via New Haven.
The Vermont Green Line, VGL for short, would come on shore in Ferrisburgh and run along several back roads to Route 7, and then from there down to New Haven.
In November, the Ferrisburgh selectboard appointed a committee to work out project details and payment to the town, a group that included selectboard chairman Steve Gutowski. That committee met on Tuesday night, and Gutowski, reached on Wednesday morning, said he planned to meet with National Grid official Joseph Rossignoli later that day.
Gutowski said whether the VGL goes through Ferrisburgh probably hinges on New Haven. At their town meeting last week, New Haven residents overwhelmingly supported a request to hold a town-wide Australian ballot on whether to accept the VGL infrastructure — including a new converter station — and compensation, once details of a deal between the VGL companies and the town have been worked out.
But Gutowski said his selectboard and committee have not had negative feedback from Ferrisburgh residents, and although many details remain to be ironed out he can foresee the town and the companies reaching a deal.
“I don’t see anything at this point that’s telling us that Ferrisburgh won’t be moving forward,” Gutowski said.
There is also a key difference between Ferrisburgh and New Haven’s situations, he said. The line in Ferrisburgh would be entirely underground, while New Haven would host the above-ground converter station and already hosts a VELCO substation and more than its fair share of solar arrays, and Vermont Gas Co. is also proposing a facility there.
“They have overload. I can understand where they’re coming from with all the things that are going on in their town, with VELCO and the solar panels and then this and Vermont Gas,” Gutowski said. “They’re having a utility overload, for sure. When you get right down to it in Ferrisburgh, once that project’s done, you’re not even going to know it happened.”
If the VGL is built, the electricity would travel from Beekmantown, N.Y., by high-voltage, direct current cable to the converter station in New Haven, which would transform it into alternating current power and plug it into the nearby VELCO substation. The power is destined for markets in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
VGL officials hope that if the project can obtain its Certificate of Public Good and all other needed permits, construction could begin in late 2017 or early 2018 and be completed in about two years.
Developers in December pledged to pay New Haven roughly $1 million annually and added a number of other enticements, including a $3 million fire station.
At a November meeting in Ferrisburgh, VGL representatives said they would pay Ferrisburgh at least $350,000 a year for 20 years on top of an estimated $150,000 a year in local property taxes the project would generate, and left the door open for further negotiations.
Gutowski said town and VGL officials have agreed that the line would not run under the traveled lanes of the roads involved — Kingsland Bay, Sand, Little Chicago and Botsford roads and Tuppers Crossing on the way to Route 7 from Kingsland Bay.
Instead, the line would be installed along the shoulder. Two-foot-by-four-foot concrete junction boxes would be needed along the road about every 2,500 feet to hold line splices.
Gutowski said town officials believed the varied materials used over the years and the presence of rock ledge in roadbeds — dirt roads paved over in the course of the decades — created too many uncertainties for the VGL to rely on that approach.
“We are not comfortable going down the traveled portion of the road is a good idea,” Gutowski said, adding, “We want them to go down the shoulder of the road.”
According to minutes, at a Feb. 25 meeting with town officials and project abutters, VGL pledged not to use eminent domain to take any property and to pay for the town’s “legal, technical and engineering costs.” Gutowski said those items are being worked on in the latest memorandum of understanding, or MOU.
Those are among many issues under consideration. For example, Gutowski said, town officials would also like the companies to pay for fixing culverts along the route as needed, and road foreman John Bull is working on a culvert inventory for that purpose.
Other items to be negotiated include locations where the lines will cross roads, construction techniques, restoration of affected land, easement language, and, of course, final compensation for Ferrisburgh.
“To say there are lot of details to work out is an understatement. We’re just discussing the MOU now,” Gutowski said.
Once a final deal is reached in Ferrisburgh, Gutowski said, the selectboard would listen to residents on whether to hold a vote, even if so far officials have heard questions, but little opposition.
“The selectboard is just a board of five people, and it has the potential of coming down to a town vote if the town expresses they want to go in that direction,” he said. “Up to this point I don’t feel we’ve had anything that is negative on the project, and we’ve certainly had light turnouts compared to where New Haven’s at.”
Of course, if New Haven says no or even takes too long to make a decision, Gutowski noted Rossignoli is on record in the Independent as saying VGL officials are looking at alternative routes.
It could be the Ferrisburgh’s committee’s work will be short-circuited.
“Ferrisburgh really isn’t going to go anywhere until we find out if New Haven is going to be moving ahead,” Gutowski said. “I don’t mean we’re not going to be moving ahead with this process, it’s just that whether Ferrisburgh is going to get involved with this on the construction end of it depends on whether New Haven decides if they don’t want it in their town.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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