SALEM — Two city councilors say they are trying to spare the downtown from one more construction headache.
Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel and Ward 1 Councilor Bob McCarthy have asked state Rep. John Keenan to seek a waiver from state environmental regulations that require National Grid to dig up a stretch of Derby and Canal streets to remove a high-voltage transmission line.
The removal of an old electrical cable, which extends about 1 mile between substations on Fort Avenue and Canal Street, is part of a major transmission upgrade planned by National Grid and tentatively set to begin next year.
Although the utility no longer intends to lay new transmission lines down narrow and busy Derby Street, instead going through a neighborhood near Salem Common, it says it still must remove two existing cables that are more than 40 years old. The cables have to be taken out, the utility told local officials, because they are packed in an oil that is considered hazardous.
Taking out one of the cables would require digging up Derby, New Derby and Canal streets, Turiel said. The other is in a conduit, he said, and can be removed with less disruption to the roadways.
The cable removal project is unnecessary, both councilors contend.
“We understand that Massachusetts regulations require that the cable be removed,” the councilors wrote in a letter to Keenan. “However, the cable (that is) in place now is not presenting any hazard to the city at this time, nor is it likely to as the insulating material is essentially simple mineral oil. This is, of course, likely why the other 49 states do not have a regulation in place to require removal the way Massachusetts does.”
Keenan said he inquired about a waiver last year with Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and was told it is not possible. After getting the request from the councilors, Keenan said he has asked a second time.
The state representative, however, said he is not optimistic.
“I would be surprised if it’s a favorable response, but we have asked,” Keenan said.
Even if the waiver isn’t granted, Keenan said removing the old cables, unlike installing new ones, will require only limited construction and disruption.
“It’s going to be a quick shot down Derby Street,” he said.
Turiel said he hopes the state will change its mind and grant the waiver. It would help residents in both areas, he said, especially along Canal Street, which is in the midst of a lengthy and major roadway improvement project.
“If we don’t have to disrupt Canal Street when we have a construction project going on, so much the better,” he said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.