, Newburyport, MA

February 8, 2013

Many questions, few answers at hearing


---- — WEST NEWBURY — About 20 residents attended a public hearing on Wednesday to learn about plans by National Grid to install new electrical conduit on roadways near their homes. However, most of them left the meeting with little more information than they had when they arrived.

David Boucher, a representative sent by the electric company, had few answers to the questions raised about the project by selectmen and the abutters. And sketches of the plan design provided by National Grid were frustratingly hard to read and incomplete.

In the end, selectmen decided to continue the hearing until later this month to give National Grid an opportunity to properly address the concerns raised at the hearing.

Because of numerous cable failures in a neighborhood off Crane Neck Street, National Grid is seeking permission to install 3-inch underground conduit and new cable along the route of the existing direct varied cable starting 35 feet northeast of the center line 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, Hill Top Circle and at least a portion of Woodcrest Drive. Five pull boxes will be installed to assist with the installation of the cable, a petition to selectmen from National Grid stated.

In order to accomplish the work the public roadways in the target area will be excavated and, in some cases, work will take place on portions of private property.

Boucher couldn’t tell those present if all properties in the neighborhood would benefit from the upgrade or if — as it seemed to appear on the design — half a dozen homes at the top of Hilltop Circle would be excluded.

Selectman Glenn Kemper said he wouldn’t approve the project unless all residents in the neighborhood would benefit from the upgrade.

The representative didn’t have an answer to Selectman Dick Cushing’s question on what the long-term plan was for upgrading secondary lines in the area with conduit.

He was unsure if the project extended all the way down Woodcrest Drive, or just partially. He couldn’t say when the work was likely to begin or if the work would cause any interruption to the residents’ electrical power, though he did say people would be notified in advance if that turned out to be the case.

One Hilltop Circle resident wondered if other utilities such as gas and cable television might be affected during the project. When the representative again had no answer, West Newbury’s Public Works director Gary Bill, piped up from the audience.

“I can answer that — there will be other disruptions,” Bill said, noting that the underground cables used for the different utilities are all intertwined.

Robert Cleary of Robin Road questioned why the company was seeking easements onto the property owner’s deeds for this project when in the past 15 years work has frequently been done by National Grid on his land without his ever having signed off on an easement.

Kemper wondered if perhaps in preparing for this type of large-scale project the company only recently realized that the easements had never been secured previously.

Cleary felt the easement request was too vague and left open the possibility for the company to install something more than just the existing transformer he has at the edge of his property. But when he asked if wording in the easement could be included that would limit what can be put on his land, he was told by Boucher to bring that question to the company’s legal department.

One thing the representative was sure about was that the electric company would fix any disruption to a property owner’s driveway, mailbox or sprinkler system. Selectmen Chairman Bert Knowles assured residents that would be the case because his board has insisted as a condition of approval that National Grid take out a $20,000 surety bond to cover all items disturbed in the town’s right-of-way during the project.

The public hearing was continued until Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.