SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

September 3, 2013

Column: $67 million change raises questions about National Grid study

Notwithstanding Rep. John Keenan’s Op-Ed piece in The Salem News of Aug. 1 titled, “Keenan: Important To Know The True Cost Of The Cable Project,” which appeared two days after the release of National Grid’s most recent cost estimate for an underwater route for the cable renewal project, those of us who have raised initial concerns remain skeptical that we have yet to receive a realistic estimate of the cost differential between the Grid’s preferred land route as against the underwater alternative.

The reason for the ongoing concern should be obvious. National Grid on April 9, 2012, provided a handout to those attending one of its periodic public meetings on this issue. The utility cited the disparity between the ocean alternative and the land route as being approximately $43 million for the ocean route as against $28 million for the land route. Rep. Keenan was in attendance at that meeting and presumably received this material, as did everyone else present.

It should be noted that the firm that prepared both the most recent study suggesting a $110 million cost is the same firm that prepared the information provided by National Grid in their April 2012 handout — Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, Mo. There is obviously a need before the debate intensifies to recognize that everyone’s interest would be well-served by attempting to arrive at an objective measure of what the cost differential really is. In addition to obvious neighborhood impacts (despite National Grid’s decision to avoid Derby Street), there will be a significant impact either directly or peripherally on both homeowner and business interests in downtown Salem — with those of us who are cynical (myself included), skeptical that the timeline optimistically suggested in terms of two construction seasons to accomplish this will be adhered to.

Efforts during the intervening period to obtain the full text of the April 2012 study have proven fruitless. At the April 2012 meeting, National Grid refused to provide the full study, citing among other reasons national security constraints. Efforts via local and state officials (the mayor, state representative and state senator) to obtain the full report have to date proven unavailing. It should also be noted that the engineering firm in question has a practice heavily based on work for a range of utilities — Iberdrola (Central Maine Power) and Northeast Utilities, among others.

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