Updated, 5:55 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Common Council on Tuesday approved giving Eversource a letter it needs to move ahead with its application to bury a high voltage cable under the Norwalk River.
The 115-kilovolt cable would run directly underneath the Veterans Park visitors dock, eight feet below new pilings recently installed by the City when it rebuilt the dock. Eversource needs to re-route its existing overhead cable because it’s obligated to remove the catenaries from the Walk Bridge by 2020, ahead of the State’s effort to rebuild the bridge.
Eversource needs to file its application by Nov. 1, Public Works Committee Chairman John Igneri (D-District E) said. He explained that although the Committee last week requested more information before it would vote on the request, he moved the matter to the full Council with the consent of Committee members.
The vote to authorize Mayor Harry Rilling to sign a letter of no objection to a Section 408 application was 9-3-1, with Chris Yerinides (D-District A), Travis Simms (D-District B) and Greg Burnett (D-At Large) voting no, and Michael Corsello (D-At Large) abstaining. Absent were Ernie Dumas (D-District B) and Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C).
“It’s just kind of hard for me, if all we are doing is voting on sending a letter of no objection to do so when we have multiple groups within the city who are objecting to it,” Yerinides said, toward the end of more than an hour’s worth of questions and answers on the topic.
Harbor Management and Shellfish Commission members, who objected to the move, detailed 15 allegedly inaccurate statements made last week at a Special joint Council Committee meeting on the proposal, which is linked to the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s plan to rebuild the antiquated railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, a.k.a., the “Walk Bridge.”
The Harbor Management Commission in its letter requested an independent peer review by a recognized expert in underground electric utility construction and for Eversource to meet with both Commissions to discuss alternative routes.
Among the “untrue” comments said to have been made last week was a report “that the two Eversource 115-kV transmission lines provide all power to Southwest Connecticut,” the letter said.
“These transmission lines are part of a network of feeders that bring power to Southwest Connecticut,” the letter said. “The NHMC understands that this array includes 345-kV underground transmission circuits, a link to Long Island that runs beneath Long Island Sound, a set of gas turbine generators in Greenwich and another in Stamford, as well as other 115-kV cables. Electric supply in Southwest Connecticut clearly is not solely dependent on the two 115-kV lines of interest here.”
The Harbor Management Commission is seriously concerned about the devaluation of the docks, Commissioner John Pinto said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We don’t know what we want to do in the future, this is going to be our communication hub, our transportation hub, for boats coming in or out of the city… that would certainly limit what we can do,” Pinto said.
“The cart is way before the horse, environmentally speaking,” given no environmental reviews for the project, Shellfish Commissioner Steve Bartush said, alleging that Eversource will not exist 50 years from now and its replacement will not be interested in honoring agreements with Norwalk.
Any project that involves digging near the Stroffolino Bridge runs the risk of stirring up heavy metals, longtime water quality activist Richard Harris said, predicting workers in haz-mat suits.
Council President John Kydes (D-District C) later cited “conflicting information” and asked Eversource representatives if the cable installation would impede or limit future modifications to the docks, as alleged last week in the joint Committee meeting.
There’s no mandatory offset in the river, Evan Piacente replied.
“It would be irresponsible for Eversource to say with 100 percent certainty that anything could be built,” he explained. “Only because the last thing you ever want is for somebody to jeopardize the access to the cables themselves. We absolutely would and do very frequently work with entities where we have made commitments, whether currently or in the past, to execute upon projects that may or may not impact our cable.”
Kydes asked about “permission” for future work by the City.
“It’s definitely not by any means ‘permission,’” said Piacente, an outside contractor to Eversource. “We don’t own the land so it’s not a permission, it’s a matter of coordination.”
Tom Livingston (D-District E) asked if the City was giving up rights or cutting short an environmental review by signing the no objection letter.
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said no, that the Connecticut Siting Council allows continued comment during its proceedings, and, “In my experience with the Siting Council, I think there is an effort to push proposers …. to consider alternate routes if available and they make more sense.”
There will also be a Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) process for the land-side application, and the “city isn’t giving up any of its rights to participate,” he said. He later added that “the Siting Council is fairly adept at reviewing these applications involving lines going under the water.”
Burnett asked when the Council would address the points made by the Harbor Management Commission in its letter, and Coppola said the Council “is probably not the best body” to evaluate those issues, that DEEP and the Siting Council have experts available to assist them and are better suited.
He called the no objection letter a “check on the box” and “more process over substance.”
Doug Hempstead (R-District D) suggested an amendment incorporating assurances made by Eversource in an Oct. 4 letter into an affidavit for the record, certifying the City’s ability to replace dock pilings or do dock work.
The amendment passed unanimously.
Afterwards, Pinto and Bartush said they were not satisfied by the Council’s questioning.
‘There’s never been a precedent of a power line under a public facility,” Pinto said. “Not that we know of” in Connecticut.
Marsha Wellman of Eversource said there had been, and referred NancyOnNorwalk to documents on the Siting Council’s website regarding a 345-kilovolt cable approved in 2005, between the Scovill Rock Switching Station in Middletown and Norwalk Substation in Norwalk. That goes under the deep boat launch and comes up in Stratford, she said.
There’s also a cable that goes under the Saugatuck River, from the Westport Library area to the west side, Frank Poirot of Eversource said.