The Oak Bluffs Select Board unanimously approved Eversource’s installation of some 30 telephone poles on Barnes Road, but they were upset that the utility company started work before their approval.
During a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 14, Eversource representatives came before the board to request to install 29 50-foot poles, two 35-foot poles, and seven anchors and guy-wire along Barnes Road to “improve reliability and increase system capacity.”
“The purpose of the intermediate poles is to accommodate the overhead wire we’re looking to install,” Marissa Jackson from Eversource’s rights and permits department said, adding that this will improve resilience. She also said the installations would help reduce the amount of time outages last. “These circuits will not only benefit customers along Barnes Road and the surrounding area, but will also better distribute power supply from the fifth submarine cable from Falmouth to Eastville into Oak Bluffs.”
When board member Thomas Hallahan pointed out that the poles already seem to be being installed on the Lagoon Pond side of Barnes Road, Jackson said preliminary work was done before Eversource asked for permission.
“We have existing land rights for the poles that are out there currently, so we have swapped those out for the larger-capacity pole,” she said. “What we’re proposing now is intermediate poles between those existing [poles].”
The project is expected to end by the middle of January.
Board member Dion Alley said it was puzzling why Eversource moved forward with the work before the hearing, pointing out that the board could disapprove of the plan. Alley said he can see how the project can benefit the town, but he wanted all of the information to come before the board before Eversource began work.
“I feel like you already assumed the board was going to approve it, and you’re going to do it, and … we do have concerns, and we would rather have aired those concerns prior to this construction,” he said.
Jackson said while it was “no excuse,” there was only a certain amount of time to do these projects each year on the Vineyard.
Terri Feuersanger, Eversource supervisor of rights and permits, added Eversource maintains the right to repair, replace, and install poles as a part of its land rights. “Could there be better communication beforehand? Yes,” she said. “We can talk about how to improve that communication.”
Oak Bluffs town administrator Deborah Potter said Eversource had developed this plan and gone ahead with the preliminary work, but the only contact the town received was six weeks prior to the select board meeting.
“That’s not enough time for the town to turn around and try to talk to Eversource about other options that might have been mutually beneficial to both of us,” she said. “It’s not that you don’t communicate with us with things that are going to happen in the immediate future. It’s that you didn’t include us in the planning at step one.”
Board chair Emma Green-Beach said while she understands Eversource needs to maintain its infrastructure, she was concerned about the next phase of the project, and whether the town would be involved in the planning process.
Eversource community relations manager Ronit Goldstein said typically the work and permission process would happen in line with the public hearing process, but this proposal went “sideways” in an effort to conduct the project more succinctly, considering time constraints that the weather could bring. “Even though we have the right, we could have communicated better,” she said.
The large number of poles possibly harming the area’s aesthetics was also a concern for board members.
Board member Gail Barmakian asked whether Eversource could “mitigate” the number or size of the poles. “It looks very messy,” she said.
Jackson replied that the current proposal was actually a reduced version, since Eversource’s initial plan was to install 70 new poles.
Hallahan brought up the “quite beautiful” tree canopy on Barnes Road, and said he hoped Eversource and its contractors would be mindful of this while trimming trees for the project. Barmakian asked for the town to be notified if Eversource was going to do “major tree cutting” for the project.
A few people from the public spoke about the project, but there wasn’t heavy opposition to it.
Those interested in the project can also ask for the plans at Oak Bluffs Town Hall.