Push is on to bury power lines

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

They’re the most closely watched high-voltage lines in Rhode Island. More

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FOCUS: CONSTRUCTION, DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE

Push is on to bury power lines

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 10/7/13

They’re the most closely watched high-voltage lines in Rhode Island.

Dangling across a picket line of rusty towers from Providence’s Knowledge District to East Providence, the India Point power lines, as they’re known, have been the subject of a frustrated plan to remove them from public view for the past 11 years.

With progress on a large project to bury the lines languishing, the residents who’ve pushed the plan since its inception are redoubling their efforts to achieve the critical mass of support needed to make it happen.

They’ve gotten the state-backed Interstate 195 Redevelopment District Commission involved and, in the process, organizations pursuing new building plans for the surrounding waterfront neighborhoods are getting behind it.

The new push appears to be having at least some impact.

The I-195 commission, which is responsible for developing 20 acres of prime land in Providence, met with officials from the city and East Providence about the power lines in early September.

Providence officials say talks with stakeholders, including utility National Grid, are “ongoing.”

But whether the backing of a few new and powerful groups can free the plan from the tangle of the competing interests and priorities is unclear.

With the state, two cities, multiple property owners, a utility, its regulators and thousands of electricity ratepayers all involved, the project is weighed down by its own complexity.

To get the 1.2 miles of power lines out of the air, National Grid would need to put them in tunnels beneath the Providence and Seekonk rivers, as well as manage a right of way through the southern end of the Fox Point neighborhood.

And at the heart of the debate, of course, is who is going to pay for the burial project, which National Grid’s most recent estimates peg at $22 million.

At least $17.2 million of that total has already been secured from a mix of federal, state and utility-related sources.

And under a 2004 settlement signed by Providence, East Providence, National Grid and the R.I. attorney general, residents were supposed to pick up the rest with a surcharge on their utility bills.

But as the project’s costs have grown over time and new leaders have moved into various elected offices, the cities appear to have had second thoughts about footing the rest of the bill.

David Ortiz, spokesman for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, said discussions between the city and stakeholders, including East Providence and National Grid, are now “active and occurring on a regular basis.”

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