One city leader stressed the enormity of the project and raised concerns about National Grid.
“While we recognize these cables need to be replaced, we are extremely apprehensive about National Grid’s ability to do so in a manner that is sensitive to the historic nature of our buildings, the complex nature of our in-ground infrastructure, and the vibrant activity of our local businesses and residential neighborhoods,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said in a statement.
Several business owners and community leaders strongly urged the board to consider two options that they contended would have less impact on the downtown but which National Grid has rejected as impractical, harmful to the environment or too costly — installing the cables under Salem Harbor or along the railroad line.
Although the harbor option will appear as part of a nonbinding question on the Nov. 5 ballot, there seemed to be more support for the largely railroad route from the power plant substation to Canal Street, which backers said would avoid digging up neighborhoods and the downtown and be less costly.
“I just don’t understand it,” said Biff Michaud of the Salem Witch Museum, located on Salem Common. “Go down the railroad tracks.”
Michael Harrington of the Hawthorne Hotel, also on the Common, said that when the railroad route was raised at earlier meetings, National Grid representatives “did not demonstrate that they had convincingly looked at this alternative ...”
The railroad route, first raised by Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent, has the backing of several councilors.
“This is the least disruptive,” Councilor-at-large Bill Legault told the state board.
Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 200 members in the downtown, said National Grid shouldn’t be allowed to reject the railroad option just because it may pose challenges.