Salem cable project nears final phase

KEN YUSZKUS/Staff photoWork continues on Essex Street in Salem, near the intersection with Webb Street. National Grid has finished installing new underground cables. Next, crews need to remove the old cable, then resurface streets that have been excavated.

SALEM — After nearly a year, National Grid's underground cable project has reached a critical milestone and finished new cable installation. Now, the next major step — removing the old lines  — prepares for launch.

Work to install a new set of underground utility cables began midway into last year, and the long-running process came to an end last month.

"This is the culmination of several years of work in design, community outreach and a great working partnership between the city of Salem and National Grid," said Danielle Williamson, spokeswoman for National Grid. "We look forward to putting the new cable into service for residents and businesses in Salem and across the region for decades to come."

Now that the new cable is in the ground, the old one has to come out. And the next critical date in the project is coming up fast — March 22, when the removal process begins.

The project hasn't been an easy one to get around, as it extends from the power plant, through the Salem Common neighborhood, into the Point and over to Canal Street, with excavations and detours at different points along the way.

It also got off to a controversial start when neighbors raised concerns about the impact. A $3-million, 33-item memorandum of agreement between the city and National Grid eventually sweetened the deal.

Since then, things have gone swimmingly, according to Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.

"They've done a really good job doing the project the way they said they would — communicating with the rest of the business community and staying on track with everything," he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy said there has been frustration from residents along the way, but the company has been "doing what they're supposed to be doing — trying to keep it on schedule."

"It's all about communication," he said. "They're very good about it, coordinating as they're ripping out anywhere from 50 to 100 feet a day, letting residents know where they're going to be, what streets will be impacted, what streets may be re-routed."

The complaints McCarthy has been hearing "are being dealt with. We're dealing with them as they come up and keep moving forward."

No business closings

Along the way, Oosthoek noted, the project didn't trigger the closure of a single business.

"How often were there street closings? Traffic jams? How often did they mismanage areas where people couldn't get into a store or their driveway? The answer is never," Oosthoek said. "They've done a good job informing the community, listening to the concerns of the community and addressing them as soon as possible."

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said the company has "worked hard to be as accommodating as they could considering the extent of the work required, and to be done safely for workers and passersby.

"It has definitely been a project that has been well-managed on the part of National Grid, but obviously has had impacts when you're doing anything this invasive," Driscoll said.

As the removal phase of the project goes forward, so will work to resurface roads along the newly installed cable route, according to Williamson.

The project's outreach team is expected to canvas homes and businesses around the old cable system's removal route. The coming months represent the final moments of the project requiring excavation of Salem streets, Williamson said.

Navigating Derby

Now one of the most significant challenges will face the project: Derby Street.

The old lines run from the first substation where Fort Avenue meets Derby Street to where Derby splits into New Derby and Lafayette streets. From there, it takes two different paths to the company's other substation on Canal Street.

But part of the road is narrow, Oosthoek said, which raises the question of "whether they will have to close the street."

Several businesses operate between Daniels and Becket streets, including the Brewer Hawthorne Cove Marina. The entrance to Blaney Street, which is home to Boston Harbor Cruises and the Salem Ferry, could also be affected. The House of the Seven Gables sits along the cable path as well.

Williamson said National Grid will continue to work closely with the city, residents and businesses and remain in constant communication with them all to ensure the removal of the cable lines is done quickly, safely and with as few inconveniences as possible.

National Grid's timeline, which is posted on its project website, calls for removal to take place this spring, with final restoration of the cable route occurring between March and June.

There is some concern, however, about timing should the project extend beyond then.

"We're slowly getting to the tourism season," Oosthoek said. "They've always done very well, but we want to make sure the coaches and visitors can happen."

And if that means delaying certain parts of the project until after Halloween, Oosthoek supports that, especially on Derby Street. He said curb-to-curb paving along Derby, for instance, could be done in November or December instead of the summer. He also noted he's withholding final judgment on the quality of the project until it's completed.

For more on this story or other story-related inquiries, email Salem reporter Dustin Luca at dluca@salemnews.com, call 978-338-2523 or message @DustinLucaSN on Twitter.

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