SALEM — City voters will have a chance to weigh in on National Grid’s plan to install new, high-voltage transmission cables through Salem, after the City Council voted to include a question about the issue on Salem’s November ballot.
Called “Salem’s Big Dig” by some, the project would replace transmission cables between electric substations on Canal Street and the Salem Harbor Station power plant on Fort Avenue.
Many in the city support an underwater route through Salem Harbor, saying it will cause less disruption of neighborhoods, local businesses and traffic.
But National Grid rejected the idea of “horizontal directional drilling” under Salem Harbor earlier this year, say it would be too costly and too difficult to make repairs.
On Thursday, city councilors approved placing a nonbinding referendum question on the November ballot seeking public support for the underwater route. The board also voted to support a citizens petition that has been circulating this month to support the underwater route.
“I cannot support what they (National Grid) think is the easiest route,” said Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski. “We need to put this on the ballot. ... Let the people decide.”
If National Grid were to lay the new cables underground, instead of the water route, it would be comparable to the yearslong project to reconstruct Bridge Street, which disrupted neighborhoods, local businesses and the city at large, Sosnowski said.
The utility’s preferred route goes right through Ward 2’s residential, Salem Common neighborhood, then down to Congress Street and the Point neighborhood, and finally to South Salem.
Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel said he supports putting the issue on the ballot, but does not have much confidence that it will make a difference.
“In the end, we don’t have a lot of control over this,” said Turiel.
National Grid plans to hold a public meeting on the issue in late August. The construction project is expected to last as long as two years.