WOBURN - As predicted years ago, city officials find themselves unable to find answers about key details and construction timetables involving Eversource's underground construction of a high-voltage conduit in East Woburn along Washington Street.
During the City Council's latest gathering in City Hall, the aldermen voted unanimously to send a letter to Eversource's public outreach team and demand answers about when private contractor McCourt Construction plans on completing excavation work along Washington Street between the Winchester line and Montvale Avenue.
Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, who authored the late-filed order, told her colleagues that the construction work has proved a constant headache for those who reside around Leland Park and other surrounding neighborhoods. She explained that she has repeatedly tried to no avail to speak with representatives from the electricity distributor to get information about the anticipated completion date for the Washington Street spur of the 8.5-mile long installation.
"The Eversource project started some time ago on Washington Street and the impacts to the neighbors over there with the traffic are pretty bad," said the East Woburn alderman. "After trying for weeks to get updates from our great people in City Hall, like DPW Superintendent Jay Duran and [Police] Chief Robert Rufo — who are equally frustrated [by the lack of communication] — I"m asking the council to send a communication to Eversource."
"When will they be complete with their work?" asked Mercer-Bruen. "For clarification, I want to know when they'll be compete with the work on Washington Street. I know they plan to next move to Montvale Avenue, but we can't seem to get an answer as to when they'll be through [with the work they've already started]."
In late May, a year after state officials overturned a 2018 City Council decision that denied grant-of-location permits for the massive construction project, Eversource broke ground on 345,000 volt line conduit, which is being buried in the middle of some of Woburn's busiest traffic corridors.
Under the first phase of the work, McCourt Construction contractors sank a massive pre-cast concrete vault underneath Washington Street between Erie Street and Ran Drive, where area residents ran into pollce details and lane closures as cranes lowered the structure into place.
Expected to cause traffic disruptions for three construction seasons, the $140 million infrastructure project involves the installation of the transmission line between Woburn's electrical substation near Horn Pond and National Grid's Wakefield Junction Substation off of Salem Street near the Lynnfield line.
McCourt Construction earlier this spring also began preparations for major excavation efforts by the Horn Pond/Lake Avenue area and along the Winchester side of Washington Street.
Based upon initial press releases from the energy distributor, Evesource this year hopes to install within Woburn and Stoneham as many as 10 underground bunkers with dimensions of eight-by-30-feet. Four of those vaults are needed in Woburn, including at the following locations:
• A splicing bunker on Lake Avenue between Cove Street and Arlington Road;
• A manhole on Pickering Stret between Lake Avenue and Border Street;
• A splicing vault on Washington Street between B Street and Erie Street;
• and a bunker on Montvale Avenue between Albany Street and Rainin Road.
Eversource officials first announced plans for the massive public works undertaking back in 2015, but it wasn't until years later that the Woburn portion of the project became the subject of controversy. Although Mayor Scott Galvin and other city officials initially opted against fighting the proposal, the City Council in the spring of 2018 refused to issue grant-of-location permits for the project after insisting Eversource had refused to furnish basic details about construction timetables and phasing plans, abutters lists, and traffic detour schedules.
Notably, representatives from Eversource angrily disputed complaints from the City Council about the sparsity of construction timelines and road closure plans. They further insisted they would be managing a substantial public awareness campaign that would ensure both city officials and abutters were completely aware about those details long before construction workers began digging up streets in front of their neighborhoods and businesses.
Ultimately, the public utility appealed the council's 2018 permitting denial decision to the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), which had already approved the high-voltage transmission line route and project scope. Recognizing the city was unlikely to prevail in that legal challenge, Mayor Scott Galvin — with the endorsement of the City Council — subsequently inked a 22-page memorandum-of-understanding (MOU) with Eversource to settle the matter.
Earlier this spring, before private contractors had removed a single shovel-full of dirt from a city street along the project route, Eversource demanded relief from several public notification and outreach requirements contained in the MOU due to the COVID-19 crisis.
"Eversource and its contractors will follow social distancing and other health and safety guidelines in our community outreach efforts, including becoming more reliant on other forms of notifications, including letters, email and/or phone calls, instead of door hangers and in-person visits," the electricity distributor explained in an early April presentation.
Mercer-Bruen and other city officials are not alone in being frustrated by Eversource's failure to adhere to original construction timelines. In fact, officials in Stoneham in recent months have struggled to keep commercial and residential abutters updated about project-related developments as excavations are taking place along Route 28.
Municipal officials in the neighboring town have been told for weeks now that work crews plan to break ground on the Montvale Avenue section of the project, but that schedule has been repeatedly delayed.