SALEM — A controversial public works project that has been the subject of community meetings and debate for several years entered a new phase yesterday when a state agency came to Salem to begin its official review.
The Energy Facilities Siting Board opened the first of three local hearings yesterday afternoon in a theater at Salem State University. Despite the controversy this project has sparked over the planned route through tightly packed neighborhoods and the historic downtown, the afternoon hearing was sparsely attended, a fact some blamed on the month (”Witch City” in October) and the place (a congested college campus with limited parking).
A second session was scheduled last night to be followed by a final local hearing Nov. 6 at Salem High.
If nothing else was settled yesterday, it became clear that the state’s review of this major electrical cable replacement project will be long and, by all appearances, thorough. Representatives from the state board said that in addition to public comments, they will collect and analyze data and conduct their own series of evidentiary hearings in Boston.
The board is not expected to announce a decision until August.
National Grid, which is replacing high-voltage, underground transmission cables that run more than a mile from a substation at Salem Harbor Station to another on Canal Street, hopes to start construction by November 2014 and complete the project by May 2016.
The project has drawn concern from residents and businesses for several reasons. For one, it requires digging up a pathway through the heart of the downtown — Fort Avenue, Derby Street, New Derby Street, Washington Street and Canal Street — to remove old, failing cables.
Of greater concern is National Grid’s recommendation to install two new cables under streets that run to and around Salem Common, down Hawthorne Boulevard and Congress Street, and through The Point and South Salem over to Canal Street.