SALEM — National Grid’s proposal to lay high-voltage transmission cables through neighborhoods and the heart of the historic downtown got a hostile reception last night at a community meeting.
Many in the crowd of 60 people at the Salem Waterfront Hotel urged the giant utility to take an alternative route under Salem Harbor — an option National Grid has rejected.
“You’re not taking people into account, but you’re taking fish into account,” said Juli Lederhaus, general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel. “I’m sorry, but I think that’s wrong.”
“The Common we love so much is going to be sinking into a mud hole by the time you finish,” said Maryann Curtin of the Salem Common Neighborhood Association.
Next month, National Grid will file a plan with the state Energy Facilities Siting Board to replace two 115,000-volt transmission cables that run from an electrical substation next to the Salem Harbor Station power plant to another substation on Canal Street.
Work is expected to begin next year and finish in 2016.
The 1.5-mile stretch of cable, which runs down Derby Street to Canal Street, is an important link in the North Shore power grid but is old, failing and needs to be replaced, according to National Grid.
The company is asking the state to replace one cable along the Derby and Canal Street route and to lay another one along a new route through a Salem Common neighborhood, down Hawthorne Boulevard and Congress Street, and across The Point neighborhood to Canal Street.
Although many issues were discussed at a heated meeting last night attended by city leaders, the talk kept coming back to the proposed route deep under Salem Harbor.
National Grid hired consultants to study the issue last year and rejected it as too costly, environmentally harmful and difficult to repair.
Last night, company representatives said that idea is no longer under consideration.
The National Grid officials said they have drilled under waterways in other places when they had no other options — a technology known as horizontal directional drilling — but are not considering it in Salem because it is not feasible.
“We can do it,” said George DeLoureiro, a consultant working with National Grid. “It’s just that it has significant negatives.”
The National Grid representatives said that going under the harbor would cost an estimated $80 million, which is twice as expensive as a land route. In addition, they said the harbor could be harmed by the drilling and by the erection of a construction platform.
They also said that state and federal officials would not approve a water route when a more viable land route is available.
Residents asked if National Grid had considered the costs to neighbors whose lives will be disrupted by a two-year project to lay large electrical cables past homes, schools and city parks, or the potentially harmful impact on businesses, especially those along a one-way section of Derby Street.
“So the alternative,” resident Mary Madore said, “is to destroy a residential neighborhood and wreak havoc on a business community.”
“It’s not just inconvenience we’re talking about,” said Jane Lyness Wall, another resident. “We’re talking about a very serious concern, and that’s the loss of (business) revenue.”
At the city’s request, National Grid said it will not work during the heavy October tourism season.
A number of concerns were raised by residents of Forrester Street, a narrow roadway subject to constant flooding that is part of the Salem Common route being proposed by National Grid.
City officials tried to be hopeful about the underwater route, but also realistic.
Mayor Kim Driscoll said the city has hired a utility attorney and will try to make a case for a harbor route before the state board.
“We are going to fight hard for it ... but it is somewhat out of our control,” she said.
State Rep. John Keenan, who said he has explored the water route with state officials, was more blunt in his assessment of its chances.
Keenan, who is House chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the state Energy Facilities Siting Board must evaluate the project on three criteria: cost, environmental impact and reliability.
Horizontal directional drilling, he said, “loses on all three counts.” If more expensive options like this were approved across the state, “electricity costs ... would go through the roof,” he said.
National Grid will hold a community meeting on the project next Wednesday, April 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hawthorne Hotel.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.