Got power line gripes? Come to the Jan. 16 meeting

ORANGE-State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, spent half of New Year's on the phone with angry constituents. The same goes for state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Orange. First Selectman James Zeoli calls the situation "disturbing."

What are the trio of officials talking about? They are raging about Connecticut Light & Power's massive utility project that is beginning to take shape in Orange.

The United Illuminating Co. also is assisting in the project. The project is designed to improve electric reliability in New Haven and Fairfield counties by extending 345-kilovolt lines into the area, which is currently only served by a 115-kilovolt line.

Zeoli, Davis, and Klarides detailed how homeowners are awaking to crews removing brush and trees from their yards without any notice.

Zeoli said after he phoned utility officials to raise concerns about the apparent lack of communication a public hearing is being scheduled for residents' to learn more about the project.

The hearing, which will be hosted by the utilities' project manager, Burns & McDonnell, of Wallingford, begins 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the High Plains Community Center.

Zeoli also said in light of all the complaints he's requested the utilities' cease with clearing brush from residents' properties until the public hearing. He said the request was granted.

CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot said the utilities' have been communicating with town officials since early 2006 concerning the effects of the project.

Also every property owner has been spoken to concerning the work that would be occurring on their property, he said. Poirot said that the project will actually improve aesthetics in Orange by eliminating one row of utility structures.

The power line project is affecting dozens of municipalities across the state, but in Orange the project possesses unique challenges.

In 1926 when the utilities were created just 14 landowners were affected, but that has now increased to 143 property owners.

Zeoli said most of the lines unfortunately run through residential property owner's backyards through a large swath in the center of town.

The utilities' have the right to enter a landowner's property and perform work within 165 feet of the right of way, which can include chopping down trees and removing brush, and other structures.

"What they are doing is within their bounds, but it's devastating what they are doing to people," Zeoli said. "It's very traumatic."

Zeoli, Davis, and Klarides all said they are hearing from residents that the utilities are removing more then they need to, and that they had little if any notice that the work would be occurring.

All three officials say they are hoping for improved communication and that the utilities' only remove what is truly necessary.

"A constituent called me and told me they took down a whole stand of evergreen trees, which made the property private," Davis said.

"People are screaming saying they are losing their privacy," Zeoli said.

The utility work in Orange is expected to take up to three years and the staging area will be on land that is part of the High Plains Community Center. Dozens of vehicles and a temporary road have been created. Zeoli said he had no clue that the site would be the staging area until driving by one day recently.

Zeoli and Davis said they are concerned about kids getting into the area and falling into deep ravines that have been created.