BEVERLY — The city has hired a consultant to study the health impacts of a controversial underground cable project, but National Grid might not wait for the results.

A spokesman said Tuesday the company is considering a request from Mayor Mike Cahill to delay the start of the project but has not made a decision.

“There is a need to begin work very soon to replace the existing cable,” spokesman John Lamontagne said. “This is an important project for the North Shore.”

The project, called the Beverly Regional Transmission Reliability Project, involves replacing a 3.6-mile-long underground cable that provides electrical power to Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Manchester, Rockport and Wenham. The current cable, which lies mostly in Beverly, is nearly 50 years old and is not working, leaving nearly 50,000 people in Beverly and Cape Ann dependent on one overhead transmission line to keep the lights on.

The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board approved the project on Oct. 6. But many Beverly residents who live on the streets where the new cable will be laid have asked that the project be delayed over concerns about the health effects of the cable’s electric and magnetic fields, or EMF.

In its decision approving the project, the siting board noted some studies have reported statistical associations between magnetic fields and diseases such as childhood leukemia. But the board said the fact that the cable will be built underground and with relatively close conductor spacing would provide “substantial mitigation of magnetic fields.”

Some Beverly residents, however, have criticized what they have called a lack of transparency regarding the project and its impacts on people who live on the streets where the cable will be installed.

At a meeting with Cahill last week, residents pointed out the city never followed through on an agreement with National Grid, made more than a year-and-a-half ago, for the company to fund an independent review of the health effects of EMF. In a memorandum of agreement dated March 26, 2020, National Grid agreed to fund the city’s request for an independent review in an amount not to exceed $20,000.

Cahill acknowledged that the city had not hired an expert to conduct the study, saying they were difficult to find because it is such a specialized field.

On Monday, Cahill said the city had hired a consultant, Richard Lester of Cambridge Environmental, to conduct the independent review. Cahill said he is pushing National Grid to wait for the results of the review before starting the project.

“We’ve impressed upon the folks at National Grid that it’s important that time be taken to address neighbors’ concerns,” Cahill said.

In its decision, the siting board said it does not enforce the terms of a memorandum of agreement, which it said is a private contract between two parties.

Lamontagne, the National Grid spokesman, said the company will answer questions and share details about the project at an open house on Oct. 27. But he said the company had not decided if it will delay the project.

“We will continue to work closely and cooperate with the city, but we need to determine a delay’s potential impacts,” he said.

The time and location of the open house, or whether it will be held in-person or virtually, were not available as of The Salem News’ deadline.

The new cable will start in Salem at a switching station to be constructed on Waite Street. The cable will then run along the underside of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and into Beverly.

In Beverly, several streets will be dug up to install the cable underground as it runs from the bridge through Goat Hill and the downtown area, then along Hale and Lothrop Streets to the Cove neighborhood, where it will connect to a substation off Boyles Street.

National Grid has estimated the cost of the project at $81.2 million and has said it will take a year and a half until the new cable is installed and activated.

With the current underground cable out of service, Cahill said National Grid has to mobilize equipment to Beverly during storms to make sure the overhead transmission line is not damaged and can keep supplying power to Beverly and Cape Ann.

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.

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