BEVERLY — Residents are calling on city leaders to pause a contentious transmission line replacement project that recently won support from the state’s Department of Public Utilities.
National Grid is looking to replace a now-dead regional transmission line that runs power from a substation in Bridge Street Neck in Salem to the East Beverly substation by Boyles Street. The transmission line would run through the beginning of Cabot and Rantoul streets and then continue down Endicott, Hale and Lothrop streets, on to Cross Lane and ending at the East Beverly substation.
But the project has sparked intense outcry from residents who live along the proposed corridor, citing fears about electromagnetic fields and possible health risks associated with prolonged exposure to high-power transmission lines. Close to 50 residents attended a quickly scheduled meeting with Mayor Mike Cahill Tuesday night.
Another meeting has already been scheduled for National Grid officials to present the project to the community on Wednesday, Oct. 27. It remains unclear whether the meeting will actually be held, or if the date will be moved up over concerns about the window for appeals.
Cahill opened the meeting by explaining that National Grid would come to Beverly and field questions on the project in two weeks. The line in question is 50 years old, installed around 1970 or 1971 along the rail line crossing the harbor parallel to the bridge.
“The old line failed back in the spring, and National Grid has been trying to get it back up and running,” Cahill said, adding that this leaves only one good line suspended above the tracks, which now carries all power to Beverly and onward down the line to Cape Ann. “When there’s a bad storm forecast, Grid is bringing a bunch of equipment up and staging in Beverly, and hoping a tree doesn’t take out that line.”
At the meeting, several residents — and even city councilors — lobbied for Cahill to use an apparent 180-day clause packed into the city’s agreement with National Grid that allows the city to back out if construction doesn’t start within six months. The deal was agreed to in 2018, when the project was first proposed.
“I know National Grid won’t find this ideal... I think you have a room full of people who would breathe a sigh of relief and have more time to figure this out,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Estelle Rand. “Pausing the project is not an unreasonable request.”
Lothrop Street resident Karen Fogarty highlighted a recent Energy Facilities Siting Board decision approving the project, and how the window to appeal the state’s decision lapses on Thursday, Oct. 28, the day after the company’s meeting with residents.
Residents repeatedly asked Cahill if he can use that veto power, but he said he wasn’t prepared to answer. He also said he’d push the company to hold its community meeting sooner, thus expanding residents’ ability to appeal by giving them more time.
Scott Houseman, representing Ward 4 on the City Council, said he has “good reason to not trust what National Grid says.” He explained the company eventually held a meeting in his ward on the project, which he found out about not just after the fact, but following attempts to help the company communicate with his residents.
“Their representatives have no credibility with me,” Houseman said. “While I fully support the need for a resilient, modern electrical grid as we try to address climate change and being more resilient, National Grid certainly put me in a position where I can’t trust what they’re saying.”
Tim Averill, a Lothrop Street resident, said city leaders “out to be able to find a solution to shut this down.”
“I’m really convinced tonight and hoping we’ll find a way to say, ‘stop, let’s take the time.’ We can all now talk together in the room,” Averill said, referencing loosening COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. “Let’s decide what we really need to do.”