National Grid says it cannot run its two new transmission lines under Salem Harbor because the work would be too difficult and costly.
The utility company told Salem business leaders last week that it would instead stick to its original plan of routing the lines through the heart of the city's business district; the project is slated to begin in 2014. But instead of sharing details of the reasoning behind their decision, National Grid officials limited their explanation to an "executive summary" of a report filed by the company hired.
Pleas for a look at the full report, or even a peer review, were rebuffed.
National Grid spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack told reporter Tom Dalton the company "has already willingly provided the community with a copy of the executive summary from the commissioned report, and we feel that this voluntary action fulfills our commitment."
That's not good enough. The city and its residents need the full details.
There's no arguing the utility needs to replace two transmission lines that run from its substation next to the Salem Harbor Station power plant to another substation on Canal Street. The company, in its executive summary, has said going through the harbor would cost $43 million, compared to $28 million for a route through the city. And drilling under the harbor poses environmental risks, the company said, adding that making repairs to an underwater line is complicated and costly.
However, the business community is right in noting the two proposed routes — down Derby Street and through the Salem Common/Hawthorne Boulevard area — could cripple businesses just getting back on their feet after several tough years that included a recession and another disruptive public works project on Bridge Street.
"It's such a major-impact project, it would be good for the city, as well as the business community, to have expertise on our side ... not because we're challenging what National Grid is saying, but just to make sure we're asking the right questions and streamlining the project to ensure there's the least impact possible," said Salem Chamber of Commerce President Rinus Oosthoek.