BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — A cable replacement project by National Grid for several roads off Crane Neck Street is getting under way.
In a letter to residents living in the neighborhood, Heather Mae Shampine, community coordinator for the energy company, reported that Mirra Construction company will soon begin installing conduit in the area, a necessary first step before the cable replacement can occur.
The plan is to install new cable within conduit, eliminating the need for future excavation. National Grid hopes to complete the work by early November.
Last month at a community meeting organized by Hilltop Circle resident Jack Connolly, over a dozen residents met with Shampine to air complaints over what they said has been at least 20 years of undependable electrical service and chronic power outages to homes in the Hilltop Circle, Robin Road, Woodcrest Drive and Crescent Drive areas.
At the meeting, Shampine acknowledged that National Grid has classified the West Newbury neighborhood as “a known problem” and “one of the worst performing URDs (underground residential developments)” under its purview. The problems most likely stemmed from the fact that the original cable was laid directly underground with no conduit around it, Shampine said.
The energy company is now working with a cable injection firm to treat the underground direct-buried cables within the development. Cable injection is a process that injects fluid into the cable to enhance its performance.
“This technology has provided excellent results in significantly extending the life of the cable and minimizing outages. Unfortunately, not all underground cable can be treated successfully with the cable injection process and need to be replaced,” a letter recently issued to property owners states.
But because National Grid doesn’t install conduit or do transformer pad work, those portions of the job were contracted out through a bidding process to Mirra Construction.
In an email message following the community meeting in August, Shampine confirmed that because the secondary lines along the top half of Hilltop Circle are not failing at this time, they will not be replaced. According to her, the section of secondary line that runs “out of the transformer, along the road and into a hand hole” is National Grid’s responsibility to maintain and repair, while repair on wire going into an individual home falls onto the property owner.
According to documents provided to selectmen at a public hearing in February, the company plans to install 3-inch underground conduit and new cable along the route of the existing direct varied cable starting 35 feet northeast of the centerline of the intersection of Crane Neck Street and Robin Road and continuing in a southerly direction for approximately 5,600 feet. Other roads impacted by the work are Crescent Drive, Hilltop Circle and at least a portion of Woodcrest Drive.
Five pull boxes will be installed to assist with the installation of the cable. Selectmen have insisted that National Grid take out a $20,000 surety bond to cover any disturbances in the town’s right-of-way.
Last week, Digsafe pre-marked clearance areas that will indicate for workers and others the location of a safe operating distance from the live primary voltage. National Grid expects the work will take place within the same footprint of as current electrical lines, but if large boulders or ledge hampers underground work, the job will be completed within the next closest workable area.
Resident Tom Atwood said he and other residents grew concerned when they discovered that in some cases, Digsafe marked areas that run “a few feet” off the public way and onto private property. Atwood stressed that he has never given National Grid or its subcontractors permission to install electrical service on his land and he expects all work will be conducted within the public right of way.
Shampine said the Mirra company is contractually obligated to restore all of the grassy areas and driveways that are disturbed by the installation process. An estimated six road crossings and approximately 14 driveways will be impacted. She said that the plan is to dig only a small trench across the affected area, not to bore under pavement or asphalt.
Shampine is “hopeful the work will be done quickly and we can avoid prolonged inconvenience” and sees the project as “a great step” in preventing further outages in the neighborhood. Customers will be notified in writing if — at any time — the planned work requires an interruption in power.
For more information about the project, Shampine can be reached at 978-725-1208 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.