© The Stoneham Independent
STONEHAM, MA - Eversource attorneys want permission to begin burying a high-voltage transmission line under Stoneham roadways without affording the townspeople an opportunity to weigh-in on the controversial installation before the Board of Selectmen.
Earlier this month, the electricity distributor formally asked a state energy board to issue a so-called Certificate of Environmental Impact and Public Interest which bypasses the normal grant-of-location and road opening permitting process required in local cities and towns.
Citing the denial of permits in neighboring Woburn last May as the primary reason for the request, Boston attorney David Rosenzweig, representing Eversource in the appeal to the Mass. Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), is specifically asking the state officials to overturn that City Council decision and further rule additional proceedings before leaders in Stoneham and Winchester as unnecessary.
"Eversource seeks a comprehensive certificate from the Siting Board, representing a composite of all remaining local permits, approvals, licenses, certificates, or other forms of authorizations that would otherwise apply to the project in Woburn, Stoneham, and Winchester that have been applied for, but have not yet been obtained in final and non-appealable form," wrote Rosenzweig, a partner at Boston law firm Keegan Werlin LLP.
Should the EFSB concur with Eversource's request, Stoneham residents, not to mention its leaders, may be obstructed from any opportunity to lodge their opinions about the 345,000 kilovolt transmission line during a public hearing in Town Hall.
It's unclear whether Eversource, should its newest EFSB request be granted, would be beholden to the requirements of new local permitting protections approved at a Special Town Meeting last month in response to the high-voltage transmission plans.
Last week, Matthew Beaton, the Chairman of the Energy Facilities Siting Board, ruled the Eversource petition on its face appears to meet the statutory criteria needed for approval. That response does not grant the utility company the requested relief, but moves the process to the next phase, where a public hearing will be scheduled before the EFSB to consider the petition.
"[T]he Siting Board will defer a decision on the merits of Eversource's Initial Petition, and permits Eversouce to file a Certificate Application," wrote Beaton. "The grounds cited in the initial petition would likely be addressed in the application, and adjudicating both concurrently would serve time and resources. Accordingly, a decision on the merits of the company's initial petition is hereby deferred."
More than three years ago now, electricity distributors Eversource and National Grid jointly unveiled preliminary plans to pursue an estimated $137.7 million infrastructure improvement project in which a high-voltage conduit would be installed through portions of Woburn, Winchester, Stoneham, and Wakefield.
The forecasted 22-month long undertaking will upgrade system connections between the Horn Pond substation in Woburn by the Winchester line and National Grid's Wakefield Junction Substation off of Salem Street.
Immediately stirring controversy in all four impacted communities, as the proposed 8.5-mile long construction route would snake through both residential neighborhoods and major commuter thoroughfares, citizen commentary had been somewhat subdued over the plans over the past few years.
In Stoneham, the high-voltage cable would be installed under some of Stoneham's busiest commuter routes, including the entirety of Montvale Avenue from I-93 to Main Street, and a stretch of Route 28 that begins by the end of Montvale Avenue and continues to Elm Street.
The rest of the work in Stoneham would transpire along the whole length of Elm Street, which town leaders have described as completely inappropriate given the residential nature of the area.
Technically, direct abutters to the proposed installation have been afforded an opportunity to lodge objections to the project through previous EFSB proceedings in Boston.
At the end of February, that state permitting process ended with EFSB officials adopting a 173-page decision that sanctions the proposed scope of the work and the transmission line's proposed 8.5 mile route.
In December, Eversource followed up on that approval by filing grant-of-location applications for the work in Woburn, Winchester, Wakefield, and Stoneham.
Woburn, unlike its neighbors, did not object to the proposal during the EFSB process. As such, that application, as well as a similar petition in Wakefield, moved through the public hearing process in the spring, while appeals of the EFSB ruling were filed by Winchester and Stoneham.
Despite Eversource's insistence that it has conducted a thoroughly public outreach process, Woburn's citizenry generally did not share that view - a number of direct abutters claimed they were never issued any type of notification about the 345KV installation over the past three years.
Woburn's City Council shared that surprise.
In May, Woburn's aldermen, stunned and irked by the utility company's failure to produce simple documents like a copy of an abutters list and a street-by-street construction timeline, closed its public hearing and unanimously voted to deny the grant of location permits.
In total, the City of Woburn listed more than 60 reasons for denying the permits.
Prior to that decision, the City Council — after sitting through three nights of hours long testimony from a lineup of Eversource experts and legal advisors — accused the consulting team of being deliberately vague and unresponsive to requests in an attempt to stonewall the proceedings.
Some of the inquiries and routine paperwork submissions that were described as missing included the following:
• Engineered construction documents and project reports regarding potentially dangerous electromagnetic field emissions, alternative route options, and other analyses which had already been conducted as part of the EFSB process;
• An estimate of the overall duration of construction in Woburn;
• A schedule estimating how long work will last on each impacted roadway;
• Documentation explaining how, when, and exactly where the utility company will reroute traffic, institute road closures, and post police and other public safety details;
• The site and locations of excavation areas where existing city utilities will be rerouted or buried underneath the new Eversource equipment;
• An answer as to whether an agreement had been reached that lists the water, sewer, and gas mains that will be replaced and/or upgraded as a result of the transmission line construction or damages caused by its installation;
• Copies of public notification plans, including an explanation of how and which abutters will be contacted, the plan for broadcasting that information moving forward, and copies of abutter lists and outreach notices utilized by Eversource since 2015;
• A listing of whom neighborhood abutters may contact in the event they have concerns about homes being damaged during construction and an explanation of what types of damages will be covered.