Residents air concerns over power upgrade work being undertaken
ORANGE-Utility officials did their best to ease the frayed nerves of residents concerning a massive power line upgrade project that is literally occurring in their backyard, but residents were having none of it.
More than 250 residents and elected officials packed into the High Plains Community Center last week to learn more about Connecticut Light & Power's and Northeast Utilities project.
Currently, the utilities are in the beginning stages of extending 345-kilovolt lines into the area, which is currently only served by a 115-kilovolt line. The project's aim is to improve electric reliability in New Haven and Fairfield counties.
However, numerous residents and lawmakers testified that yards in the 165-foot right of way are being trampled, workers are beginning at the crack of dawn, and that unsafe situations are being created.
The town's state delegation, state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Orange, and Themis Klarides, R-Derby, compiled a letter outlining their concerns.
Slossberg detailed the letter on behalf of the delegation that it was clear that residents have loss vegetation, and personal property has been damaged.
Slossberg also said that the Connecticut Siting Council, which is overseeing the project, mandate that the utility companies install temporary access barriers placed at the entrance to all construction roads. Residents have said that the construction areas have become attractive for all terrain vehicles, and could lead to accidents and liability concerns on the part of residents.
Also Slossberg, Davis, and Klarides requested the hours of construction be moved to 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., if it's occurring in residents' backyards. In the delegations' letter it states residents have already been inconvenienced and starting "major construction outside their bedroom windows at 7 a.m. or continue during dinner is really a hardship."
CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot said the utilities are doing everything they can to address residents' concerns. He said more than 350 letters have been sent to inpacted residents, and representatives have gone door to door more than 100 times. Poirot said the company is committed to restoring people's properties' including removing the gravel pads, leveling the ground and reseeding it.
"In one case we moved a gentleman's garden," Poirot explained.
Orange First Selectman James Zeoli opened the meeting by saying the recent work by the utilities was "quite shocking to a lot of people," and a "lot of people are upset." He said on Saturday's tour he saw fill piled as high as 8 feet, and a lot of yards lost trees. Zeoli suggested another meeting be held in a month to ensure all residents' concerns are being addressed.
"You have a right to cut down trees but they have a right to cultivate and use their own property," Zeoli said.
John Rodriguez, who lives next to a staging area at High Plains, said he attended the forum because he's concerned about all of the parking the town will lose because the utilities are using the land.
"It's an eyesore for us. It's like living next to a truck stop," said Patricia Kraynak, adding that workers are often running the trucks as early as 5 a.m.
"It's like living next to Home Depot," added Rodriguez.
Jack Larkin, a realtor said property values will be devalued 10 to 40 percent.
"It's not a question of depreciation but whether you can sell your land. You should be compensated and talking about a class action (lawsuit) to cover damages," Larkin said.
Mrs. Gloria, a Treat Lane resident, remembered well the easement.
"The easement said we could cultivate the land. There wasn't a single piece of vegetation. … We purchased Hemlocks and created a 200-foot border. Forty-three years later the Hemlocks are 25 ft. tall. She explained that every 5 to 6 years United Illuminating would top the trees and wondered why this couldn't continue.
Ron Gambardella added another 200 feet of buffer that is now gone as well. Additionally, he said, the utility companies created two 15 foot section from his stone wall and now his basement floods.
"There is 400 feet of shrubbery wiped out and 200 feet of roadway with two landing pads. I was devastated and couldn't believe it," he said.
Town Attorney Vincent Marino tried to explain to the utility representative that Orange is unique.
"Orange is the only densely populated area along the power lines. Residents have lived along the right of ways for decades," Marino said. Adding that it was past time for them to be "thinking outside the box."
Zeoli also wanted to know if the gravel roads that have been built to accommodate the heavy machinery needed to construct the new towers would be removed when the project was completed.
He was told "some" of the roads would be removed.
"You have been maintaining these properties without yellow-brick roads for 80 years. If you are going to leave the roads you have built a path to assessment appeals," Zeoli said adding that the residents would be justified in their appeals.