SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 15, 2014

National Grid work downtown delayed

Business owners want gas mains replaced in off-season

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — Officials say National Grid has agreed to delay a construction project on Derby Street and Hawthorne Boulevard this week after fielding complaints that it would be too disruptive to the city’s downtown businesses.

The energy company had planned to replace gas mains and other equipment between 158 and 285 Derby St. and 1 and 24 Hawthorne Blvd. in anticipation of its controversial project to replace two underground transmission cables that run between substations at Salem Harbor Station and on Canal Street.

Replacing the pipeline sections would allow the cable-replacement project to move along faster, said city engineer David Knowlton. Other work zones will include, at some point, Washington Square South, Fort Avenue, and Webb, Essex, Leavitt and Congress streets.

When National Grid sent out notices to project abutters last Wednesday saying work could last until July 3, the city received complaints from several local businesses, Knowlton said.

“We heard from some concerned businesses that that would be disruptive,” he said.

Although both Derby Street and Hawthorne Boulevard were expected to remain open to traffic during the work, parking might have been limited. National Grid also warned that there could be a delay in restoration of the street or sidewalks.

On Tuesday, Mayor Kim Driscoll and other city officials met with local business representatives and National Grid. In attendance was George Carey, owner of Finz restaurant on Pickering Wharf, who said yesterday the local business community would benefit “not to have another infrastructure project on a busy road” during the city’s busiest season.

“We just think it makes a lot of sense to do it off-season,” said Carey. “It’s much more balanced if it’s done November through March.”

After the meeting, National Grid decided to postpone the project to an unspecified date. Spokesperson Jake Navarro said in an email that the company would “take a step back and re-evaluate the schedule for this work.”

“We’re working closely with the mayor’s office and city officials to establish a new schedule that will cause a minimum amount of disruption, while still allowing National Grid to do this important work to further enhance the safety and reliability of our system,” Navarro said.

City officials said they were pleased about the delay.

“Fortunately, they’ve responded to the feedback from the city and local businesses about slowing down this work until more sufficient notice and public outreach can be made,” said Dominick Pangallo, the mayor’s chief of staff, in an email.

“They’re working with us,” Knowlton said. “They should be able to comply with everybody’s concerns about the best time to do the work.”

Knowlton said he hopes to hear back soon from National Grid about the revised schedule.

“I’m hoping the next couple of days,” he said.

Although there’s a possibility that some of the work could wait until November — after the city’s tourism season comes to a close — it needs to be done before the cable-replacement project, which National Grid has said it wants to begin that same month, Knowlton said.

City officials and local businesses have previously raised doubts about National Grid’s plan to replace the transmission lines from Salem Harbor Station to the substation on Canal Street, which would bring extensive construction work to the downtown, including in the vicinity of Salem Common.

A question on last November’s ballot determined that local voters favored a plan in which the transmission line would be installed underneath Salem Harbor, as opposed to going through the downtown, but the question was nonbinding.

Another proposed route for the line would have located it primarily along railroad tracks.

The project still must be approved by the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com or followed on Twitter at @NeilDempseySN.