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Board Approves Plan to Bury Power Lines

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Siting Board approves plan to bury lines

But the approval requires the attorney general and the cities of Providence and East Providence to come up with the financing.

BY KAREN A. DAVIS

Journal Staff Writer - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- The Energy Facility Siting Board has approved an agreement that calls for Narragansett Electric to bury a one-mile stretch of power lines near the Providence and East Providence waterfronts, provided that Attorney General Patrick Lynch and both cities are able to finance the project.

The three-member board unanimously approved the plan at a hearing Friday at the Public Utilities Commission.

The agreement -- signed on Tuesday by the representatives of the utility company, Lynch's office and East Providence -- negated the need for the board to rule on whether it was necessary or simply desirable to bury the high-voltage transmission lines. Adrianne Southgate, a city solicitor for Providence, added her signature to the agreement on Friday.

"I'm grateful that the parties arrived at an agreement," board commissioner Robert Griffin said after approval was given. Griffin noted that had an agreement not been reached, the Siting Board would have had to decide whether line burial was necessary and if ordering the burial would be setting a precedent that would leave ratepayers vulnerable to future requests for line burials.

Fred Vincent, acting director of the state Department of Environmental Management and a member of the commission, said the burial plan supports federal guidelines that warn against power lines crossing parks or recreational areas, as the above-ground lines do.

Elia Germani, board chairman, praised electric company officials for their role in reaching the agreement and Lynch for "the passion with which he pursued this matter."

Germani added: "I'm glad we didn't have to make a decision because the decision may not have made everybody happy . . . But that's not our job -- to make you happy. Our job is to follow the law. I think this is a good result for everybody concerned."

For more than a year, the Siting Board has heard arguments for and against burying the power lines that extend from the Manchester Street Station in Providence across the Providence and Seekonk Rivers to East Providence.

The wires must be moved by November 2005 to make way for the state Department of Transportation's realignment of Route 195.

Fourteen months ago, Narragansett Electric submitted a proposal to move the lines to an above-ground location closer to the waterfront.

Under the agreement, the attorney general's office must work with the two cities to come up with financing for the project, which is estimated to cost more than $9.4 million.

While Narragansett Electric officials have roughly sketched out an underground route that would place the wires beneath both rivers, they must still find and purchase land to place a transmission station in East Providence.

Narragansett Electric has until Nov. 15 to come up with a design and cost for the project and the attorney general's office has until Jan. 15 to present a financing plan.

If disputes arise, the parties will settle their issues through arbitration; if the money is not raised, the matter might return to the Siting Board.

The state DOT has already set aside $2.5 million for the project. The City of Providence has received more than $300,000 in grants to help finance the effort.

The state legislature is considering bills that would provide some assistance and Lynch has suggested financing the project through incremental tax financing or a bond issue, or to have the cost passed on to ratepayers throughout the region.

Last week, the Providence City Council adopted a resolution that calls for city and state officials to use some of Narragansett Electric's settlement and storm funds to help pay for the project, an idea that was initially raised by Mayor David N. Cicilline. It also called for the electric company to stop spending $20,000 to $25,000 a month on legal expenses to fight the line burial proposal.

At Friday's hearing, Narragansett Electric officials presented a plan to move the power lines in two phases. Still under consideration are three scenerios for removing the power lines that stretch from Franklin Square, off Point Street, to the west of the Radisson Hotel on the riverfront.

Ed Parker, chief engineer for DOT, said his department was glad to that the first phase ensures that the power lines will be moved out of the path of the new highway by November 2005.

David Riley, co-chairman of the Friends of India Point Park, the grassroots group that has led the movement to bury the lines, commended the Siting Board "for all the time and attention it gave the matter."

"We appreciate your listening to the public's concerns, more than once, and your willingness to consider the social, economic and environmental implications of this decision from the large perspective of not only the next 10 years, but the next 100 years," Riley said.

From The Providence Journal

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Everyone wants underground utilities in their projects now.  And damn are they expensive...

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I have to say, though, the aesthetic differences are huge... Communities that have done that look sooo much nicer. I think the exposed lines ruin the look of Wickenden and Fox Point, for example. Who cares about that beautiful colonial era house if there are 4 power/phone/etc lines that criss-cross in front of it?

Someone I know from Montreal says that many Canadian towns and cities around where she grew up buried their lines years ago, and it rankles her every time she returns to Providence.

- Garris

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Am I correct in saying that in NYC there are no overhead power lines? What other cities? I think that in this day and age that's the way it should be. I remember the last time we had a hurricane pass through ( 1990's) the electricity and telephone lines were out all over the place.

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Am I correct in saying that in NYC there are no overhead power lines?

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In Manhattan, but parts of the Outer Boroughs have overhead lines (parts of northern Manhattan might as well).

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The lines being buried here are just the High Voltage ones from EP across India Point to the Manchester Street Power Station.

Don't want anyone to get the mistaken impression that regular utility lines on Wickenden and Benefit are coming down, they're not.

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Oh they definitely make a huge difference, but they've been known to suck project budgets dry around here.

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I LOVE the fact that the power lines are going to be underground now (I've always hated those silver towers crossing the bay)! It's going to make a huge difference in the aesthetics of both waterfronts.

It's great that so many different entities with differing goals and priorities were able to come together to get this done.

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