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Transmission Line Process Moves Along—Slowly
Durham first selectwoman Maryann Boord is spending a lot of time on issues of electric power transmission these days between Siting Council meetings (the state group which has the authority to place utility structures), meeting with Phase II towns (the group of towns on the proposed route of the upgrade from Middletown to Norwalk) and meeting with chief elected officials of contiguous towns such as Wallingford, Middletown and Middlefield.
Opposition to the upgrade has been fierce locally, particularly in the Royal Oak area of Middletown and Durham where existing 115kV transmission lines are sometimes less that 50 feet from homes. However, because the 115kV lines do not emit the same level of EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies), residents did not feel at risk for possible health risks until the proposal to upgrade the lines to 345kV was submitted last year.
The process is continuing to move forward, never mind summer vacations or plans. This means that local officials have to stay on top of new developments in order to best represent their citizens’ views before the Siting Council. The latest wrinkle in the process occurred in June when ISO New England regional power transmission agency, which operates the New England power grid, stated that too many miles of the proposed 69-mile second loop of the upgrade were underground. They based this opinion on reliability simulations.
This caused a panic in both applicants (Connecticut Light and Power and United Illuminating) and the 18 towns through which the upgrade is slated to go, including Durham and Middlefield. The underground miles to which the ISO objected were 24 miles along the shoreline from New Haven to Norwalk, through very developed areas. Towns in the more northerly part of the project, such as Durham and Middlefield, had been proposing even more undergrounding of lines so ISO New England’s opinion was not a welcome development.
This unewxpected development led to the formation of a working committee by the Siting Council to explore ISO’s finding of unreliability. They are expected to deliver a report to the council by August 16, said Boord.
Meanwhile, the town has submitted, through attorney Peter Bouchet, the “homework” required of them by the Siting Council. On July 19, Bouchet sent off a letter describing Durham’s preferred underground route and Middletown/Middlefield’s preferred underground route. Durham’s favorite begins at the Oxbow Road Junction on the Haddam/Durham line, follows Oxbow Road and then Haddam Quarter Road, turns right on Oak Terrace, crosses Main Street to Little Lane, follwing Little Lane to the intersection with Snell Road, finally following the dirt road into the transfer station. Overall length of this route is 4.6 miles.
The preferred underground route of Middletown and Middlefield starts at the Oxbow Junction and follows the Durham route up to the intersection of Haddam Quarter Road and Johnson Lane, where it turns onto Johnson Lane and proceed to Maiden Lane, travel down Maiden Lane to Main Street, turn left on Main Street to Route 68 and follow Route 68 into Wallingford where it would hook up with the proposed Beseck switching station.
The combination overhead/underground route is preferred by all three towns—Durham, Middlefield and Middletown. That route would utilize the existing 345kV line between Oxbow Junction and Chestnut Junction in Middletown (slated for removal under the current proposal), add an additional (fourth) overhead 345kV line from Chestnut Junction to Route 17 just west of Dooley Pond, cross Route 17 to a new transition station, transition underground and continue south to Little Lane, turn right onto Little Lane, bear left onto an existing dirt road after 0.2 miles on Little Lane to the transfer station where a second transition station would be built bringing the line above ground again.
The letter does not present a preferred “overhead only” route through Durham because “the town has neither the resources nor the technical expertise needed to provide the council with complete route configurations... Moreover, the record has not been developed with respect to EMF mitigation techniques.”
The towns are counting on a bill passed in the last session of the state legislature requiring the Siting Council to strongly consider undergrounding near schools, churches, daycare centers and residential areas to help them avoid aboveground upgrades in and near neighborhoods such as Royal Oak, the Foothills/Arbutus/Johnson neighborhood and the Powder Hill/Skeet Club/Elihu neighborhood.
The next actual meeting of the Siting Council will take place on August 19 to discuss process issues, followed by several hearing dates in September. The council has a December 2004 deadline to make a decision, a deadline that has not yet been moved forward.