I am writing in regards to the Eversource gas transmission line project being proposed for Ashland. For those that are not aware, Eversource is planning to replace a gas transmission line that practically bisects the town and crosses over 88 parcels and a large amount of wetlands. In scope it is a huge project, and the more information that has come available leads many of us to have questions, concerns and alternatives that should be addressed. My purpose of writing is three-fold: to educate residents about the project itself and what processes the project is going through, communicate some concerns with the project, and also to announce that the BOS will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th starting at 6:30PM at the Community Center. To be clear, I am writing as the Town Manager and not on behalf of the Board, although I feel fairly confident that all four Board of Selectmen members would concur with most if not all of what I am going to say.
I wanted to let you know that as part of this project, Eversource is going through two separate permitting processes:
1) Currently Eversource is before the Department of Public Utilities Energy Facilities Siting Board ("EFSB") for permission for this project. The EFSB looks at a number of issues when determining whether it grants permission for the project but they basically boil down to need, impact, and cost. The application to the EFSB lists two routes. A "preferred route" through an existing easement as described above and an alternative route that runs through streets (primarily 135, Prospect, and Fruit) . We have serious concerns about both routes. The Board of Selectmen do not have a decision- making role in the process, however because of these concerns they made the case and filed for what is known as "Intervenor" status with the EFSB. This is an important status because it allows us to produce witnesses and cross-examine Eversource about the project and lets us articulate our concerns before the siting board.
2) Eversource is also in front of the Ashland Conservation Commission for a permit due to the wetlands impact and stormwater impact. Eversource has presumptively sought a permit for the Preferred Route even before the Siting Board has made their decision. The project under the preferred route is expected to impact 63 lf of Bank; 50,657 sf of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands; 1,049 sf of Land Under Water, 47,515 sf of Bordering Land Subject to Flooding; and 41,636 sf of Riverfront Area.
Although an extremely simplistic summary of the concerns listed, the main concern with the preferred route is the severe impact to wetlands, and the damage to peoples' homes and property, and safety. Concerns with the alternative or "In street" route center around the massive traffic impacts to town along 135, Main Street, and Fruit/Eliot Street, which will in turn impede first responders' ability to protect life and property, and the damage to peoples' homes and property. With both routes, I worry about the impact this will have on our staff and our ability to get the myriad of projects we have in the queue completed with minimal complications and disruptions.
Although several public forums and discussions have occurred with regards to the project, many people are still unaware. Some people have characterized the lack of more public dialogue as an indication that the Town does not take the project seriously. This is inaccurate. The Board of Selectmen have allocated almost $100,000 in FY19 funds alone to advocate for and protect the Town of Ashland as part of their intervenor status. This includes hiring technical consultants, soliciting and filing testimony with the EFSB, and will culminate in a trial that will be occurring over the next few weeks. This is the single most expensive legal battle that I have been a part of. To the extent that discussion has not been more public or visible, it has been because the Board of Selectmen and its technical experts and attorneys retained to protect the interests of the town of Ashland and its citizens have felt that a more public discussion would have led to less favorable results for the town as a whole and potential abutters for a variety of reasons.
Complicating things further is the number of other initiatives we are in the middle of: the Public Safety building project, a new Mindess School, a YMCA, major improvements in Downtown and Pond Street not to mention private investment accompanying that. Ironically we are even looking at a Net Zero Energy initiative for the town.
The Board of Selectmen will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th, beginning at 6:30 at the Community Center for the purposes of listening to residents concerns about the project. We should also be able to answer questions about the siting board process and the project specifics itself. The Ashland Conservation Commission has been invited as has the Ashland Sustainability Committee. Technical experts should be there as well. At this time I will assume that we will be somewhat limited in what we can publicly state due to ongoing litigation, but we can certainly listen to your concerns.
Once there enter "EFSB18-02" in the search bar.