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Eversource transmission cables: City got $60K to cover future dock-related costs, Harbor and Shellfish Commissions want more assurance

Proposed path of underground transmission cables across the Norwalk River. (Source: Eversource)

Tomorrow’s public hearing with the CT Department of Energy and Environmental protection (DEEP) could be the last opportunity for the Norwalk Harbor Commission (NHRC) and the public to voice concerns about Eversource’s placement of high-voltage transmission lines under the Norwalk River as part of the Walk Bridge project.

Among other issues, the NHRC is frustrated with a deal the City struck with Eversource in February 2023, which commissioners say doesn’t protect the City from future harbor expenses related to the presence of the cables near a public facility. Current plans have two 115KvH electric lines running underneath portions of the Veteran’s Park Visitor’s Dock.

Norwalk Visitor’s Dock, 2017. (Credit: Geoff Steadman)

The agreement calls for Eversource to pay the Harbor Commission $50,000 and the Shellfish Commission $10,000.

When asked if the $50,000 was intended to cover future costs that might come up due to the relocation of the cables, spokesperson Michelle Woods Matthews sent the following statement via email:

The visitors’ dock is already in place. If Eversource, for any reason, needs to do any repair in the line that affects the dock, they will have to pay to restore it. If there are costs for future upgrades or expansion of the dock, regardless of the location of the cables, Eversource has provided $50,000 to offset these costs and the City would likely be responsible for the balance.

DEEP has not issued the required permit for the project, but has indicated its intent to approve the application. Tomorrow’s public hearing is being held based on a petition filed by the NHMC in April.

Harbor commissions wants greater assurances for future costs related to Visitor’s Dock

The electric transmission lines, which have been carried atop the Walk Bridge, must be buried under the river due to the nature of the new lift bridge. Initial plans for the Walk Bridge project in November 2017 had the path of the cables running under the Visitor’s Dock and launching area.

NHMC has been raising objections since 2017.  In April 2018, it notified Eversource that the project was inconsistent with the Harbor Management Plan. In October 2018, the Common Council narrowly approved an amended motion approving a “letter of no objection” as part of the permitting process – contingent on Eversource adding an affidavit that addressed points raised by NHMC. The affidavit did not cover their concerns, said the NHMC. 

The NHMC persisted.

In 2021, after multiple conversations with the City, Eversource announced it could reroute the cables north and away from the Visitor’s Dock. But in November 2022,  the utility reverted to the original plan when it couldn’t acquire necessary property on the western side of the river.

Cables will run under the river at the Visitor’s Dock, under Elizabeth Street and up at the Police Station.
(Credit: Geoff Steadman, 2021.)

At that time, Eversource indicated it would contribute $50,000 to the Harbor Management Commission and $10,000 to the Norwalk Shellfish Commission (NSC).

Several commissioners are still shaking their heads, calling this a bribe.

 “The community needs assurance that Eversource transmission cables, buried near the waterfront, will not impede economic development in SONO in the future,” wrote NHMC Chair Alan Kibbe in a public comment in April 2024.

“You’re putting these lines under the existing docks at the Visitor Center – the City of Norwalk’s main docking area,” said NHMC Commissioner Matt Gifford at the May 22 NHMC meeting. There’s the potential, he said, that we’d “not be able to have any construction, redesigns, changes or adaptations due to subcontractors’ fear of not going anywhere near these transmission cables.”

Eversource will take care of the cables; sees no issues with dock work

Eversource, for its part, says it is responsible for maintaining and replacing the cables, and does not believe the cables will cause additional expenses related to dock work. When asked about the possibility of extra costs, and who is responsible for that, Eversource spokesperson Sarah Paduano replied via email:

  • We’ve been working collaboratively with the City of Norwalk for years to find the best solution for rerouting the transmission cables that meets the needs of our customers, Norwalk residents, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and we will continue to work together on any future projects that take place within the city. It’s important to note that the cables we’re installing have a lifespan of at least 40 years, and when the cables need to be replaced in the future, that work can be done by pulling new cables through the conduits that will be installed under the river, which means no additional drilling or impact to the surrounding environment. The City of Norwalk would not be responsible for any cost or efforts associated with future maintenance or replacement of the cables.
  • At the location of the dock crossing, the cables are approximately 35 feet below the riverbed, and based on our analysis, we do not believe there will be any additional costs associated with typical underwater work such as the construction of new dock pilings. Through our executed side letter agreement with the city, we committed $50,000 to the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission to be spent on any engineering, permitting, or construction efforts they may pursue in the future. We also agreed to provide the commission with staff to review, support, and monitor the installation of any upgrades to the docking facilities once plans are presented to us – free of charge.  

City signed agreement in February 2023

While the commissioners were crying foul about the lack of legal protection for future expenses, the city signed a side letter agreement in February 2023 that outlines the terms of the river crossing project, including Eversource’s responsibility for remediation on land and in the river. According to Eversource spokesperson Sarah Paduano, payments to the City were made in August 2023.

Both the NHMC and NSC said they had not been notified of the payments, nor had it been made clear how the money was to be spent.

The side letter included details about remediation payments to be made to the NHMC and the NSC:

  • To the City for the Norwalk Harbor Commission, $50,000 towards engineering and permitting costs for the potential future expansion of the Norwalk Visitors Dock. At the City’s request, Eversource will also provide personnel to review, support and monitor the installation of any upgrades to the docking facilities that could present risk to the installed electric transmission cables. Eversource requests that any upgrades be installed after Eversource completes its Project and that the City consult with Eversource on any such future upgrades during the design of work on such upgrades.
  • To the Shellfish Commission, $10,000, which the Shellfish Commission intends to apply toward the potential future development or care of the shellfish community in, or around, the Norwalk River.

City holds Eversource responsible for cables but not the dock

In response to questions about future assurances, the city gave this reply through its spokesperson, Michelle Woods Matthews:

  • Eversource, as the owner of the electrical lines, is responsible for repairing them. The City’s agreement with Eversource expressly requires it to maintain its lines as they run from Norwalk Harbor through Veteran’s Park.
  • The City of Norwalk is committed to protecting the Norwalk River. With respect to the concerns of the Harbor and Shellfish Commissions regarding repairing or expanding the docks off Veteran’s Park, Eversource expressly agreed that the electrical lines may not unreasonably interfere with the City’s use and enjoyment of Veteran’s Park. That includes using and enjoying any docks, present or future, at Veteran’s Park.
  • Also, as the owner of land abutting the Norwalk River, the City has littoral rights to the harbor under the law. See, 65 C.J.S. Navigable Waters § 86 (The owner of a littoral generally has an exclusive, yet qualified, right and privilege to construct wharves, piers and docks). The existence of electrical lines under the Norwalk Harbor does not alter those rights, nor can Eversource act in a manner that is inconsistent with these rights. That includes a requirement to cooperate to the extent that cooperation is necessary for the City to exercise these rights. 

“I just want someone other than the City of Norwalk and the Harbor Commission to be held liable,” said Commissioner Matt Gifford, adding that if a future project couldn’t be done because something could come in contact with the lines, or had to be kept a certain distance away from the lines, “it’s up to Eversource or whoever’s doing this project to be responsible for any of those other costs, not us.”

The public hearing will be Wednesday, May 29 at 6:30 via Zoom. Registration is required and members of the public are invited to speak; more information is available at the DEEP website.

Comments

2 responses to “Eversource transmission cables: City got $60K to cover future dock-related costs, Harbor and Shellfish Commissions want more assurance”

  1. Lynnelle Jones

    Seldom are things as they appear. Our 2019 POCD includes how the DOT, not Norwalk taxpayers, would be responsible for stormwater run-off from Yankee Doodle Bridge thanks to the efforts of the then Harbor Commission, Shellfish Commission, and Mayor’s Water Quality Committee. DOT didn’t want or expect this condition, but they learned about Norwalk’s then HMC, SC, and Mayor’s Water Quality Committee.

    Fast forward, read the multiple letters to Eversource, DEEP, the Common Council and City Legal from the NHMC and NSC and look at the power point presentation, available on the Harbor Commission page, read the Common Council minutes, public comment, motion, and vote from their Oct 2018 meeting. The letter signed by our mayor included NO affidavit and is cc-ed to no one, as the vote required! Why did his then Chief of Staff allow this? Self-interest?

    Eversource, not the city, shared the Feb 2023 side letter signed by our mayor. Meanwhile. Staff assigned to support Commission volunteers did not share that the city accepted the bribe with no conditions about future expenses regarding the still unknown size of the protected under-water utility corridor. The Feb 2023 side/bribe letter was neither authorized nor approved by the Common Council, who recently spent $4 million improving this public facility, had listened to concerns of the public, and voted to protect Norwalk taxpayers & public boaters from Eversource’s decision in 2018.

    May 2023, our Mayor’s Chief of Staff, gets appointed DOT Commissioner, following the ex-Norwalk Communications Director getting his new job at DOT. When did State DOT Commissioners need to be attorneys, as opposed to engineers, and why? Deals made to advance careers at the expense of Norwalk residents are examples of the classic Agency Principal problem; it appears city leaders have forgotten they represent public interest and public safety, not just themselves and their careers.

    Eversource, a monopoly, does what it wants, and recent threats made that the utility will not invest in CT have been in the press, showing political power. Huge Danger and High-Voltage Warning signage will be required and will be the first thing visitors and residents see welcoming them to Norwalk’s public dock. Eversource’s top attorney was hired from DEEP, showing they know who to hire to get what easily works for them. Welcome to seeing how a rigged system works.

    Our part-time Chief Counsel, Attorney Coppola, in his private practice, has represented the public interest against powerful utilities, even influenced legislation limiting the political power of utilities, and yet in his Norwalk public service role he advised an affidavit to secure a “yes” Common Council vote in Oct 2018, which was not attached to the signed letter?!? Pleasing the DOT and MTA, sources of big powerful future positions, appears to be Norwalk’s goal. Why was this a Declaratory Ruling Process? Why No Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need?

    Anyone familiar with 10 Norden Place’s site plan review knows that the public interest, public health & safety concerns have been ignored with this application for the MTA, another example of the Agency-Principal problem in Norwalk, another example of Norwalk City Leaders acting to please powerful political entities at the State level.

  2. Bryan Meek

    Norwalk getting fleeced once again. $60k is probably doesn’t even cover the bike lane markings that were just destroyed that barely made it a year.

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