By Patrick Blais

© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - In what could prove a major setback for town officials' attempts to block a massive underground electrical transmission line project, a state utility oversight board this week scheduled an anticipated vote to approve Eversource's development plans.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Mass. Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) was slated to consider a tentative decision approving National Grid and Eversource's proposed installation of an 8.5 mile long, 345,000 volt conduit between an electrical substation in Woburn by Horn Pond and National Grid's Wakefield Junction Substation off of Salem Street.

"[T]he siting board finds that the new line is necessary for the purpose alleged and will serve the public convenience and is consistent with the public interest," the tentative decision reads.

The ruling on Wednesday was expected as a result of regulatory proceedings that were initiated by Evesrsource and National Grid in Sept. of 2015. The Stoneham Independent went to press before that final decision was announced by the state officials.

Should the state officials sanction the tentative ruling as expected, it is possible that Stoneham will appeal the EFSB decision.

As part of the major infrastructure upgrade, which carries an estimated $137.7 million price tag, the high-capacity voltage line would be installed along some of Stoneham's busiest thoroughfare's, including Montvale Avenue, Main Street, and Elm Street all the way to the Wakefield line.

Town officials have long opposed the project on the grounds that it will prove devastating for the town's business community, while also causing major traffic disruptions for area residents. As the EFSB's tentative decision recognizes, local leaders were particularly concerned about the plans to push the route onto Elm Street, especially since the major construction undertaking will involve excavation of massive trenches and the installation of so-called splicing vaults that are as long as 30-feet wide.

"Stoneham expresses concern that the relatively narrow width of the roadway on Elm Street would reduce vehicular passage to one lane or alternating lanes during construction, with resulting inconveniences to abutting businesses and residents," notes the decision.

During the proceedings before the state regulatory body, Eversource officials contended the massive public works project was necessary in order to meet increased regional electrical transmission needs and to eliminate system reliability issues.

As hearings officer Robert Shea noted in his proposed 173-page decision, which was finalized and released to the full EFSB membership of Feb. 14, the local electricity distribution companies, as well as New England's larger regional grid operator, had submitted evidence showing its existing infrastructure would fail by 2018 to meet customer needs.

"According to the companies, the 2015 needs assessment identified elements in the Greater Boston Area transmission system that failed to meet thermal, volgate, and short-circuit criteria under projected 2018 and 2023 conditions," wrote Shea.

"The companies stated that this 345KV loop serves as the transmission backbone [for the Boston area]. First, the loop acts as a path for bulk system power flows traveling south from northern New England into Boston. Second, the loop distributes power from northern New England genitors and Boston-area generators to customers," the presiding case officer furthered.

In Oct. of 2016, the Town of Stoneham considered teaming up with officials in Winchester to block the project, and the two neighboring communities did share some resources during the deliberations.

Since the entire high voltage line will be buried, Eversource officials plan on digging huge trenches on local roadways to accommodate the cable, which some opponents say poses public health risks to neighborhood abutters due to magnetic field exposure.

The entire undertaking from start to finish is expected to last 22-months.

Eversource is already making the rounds before government boards in Woburn and Wakefield to obtain right-of-location permits to begin the project.

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