By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Hudson Selectman John Parent told his constituent Brian O’Neill at a public meeting on June 5 that he wanted to ensure that their relationship was not adversarial.
Though O’Neill himself said their relationship had been “combative,” his advocacy group Protect Hudson and the Hudson Board of Selectmen have since found common ground. Both groups now publically fear the environmental impacts of Eversource Energy’s proposed power line running under nine miles of partially forested land between Hudson and Sudbury.
“We’re all getting on the same page,” O’Neil said after the June 5 meeting. “This has taken over a year for us to get on the same page or close to it. Tonight was really good.”
First presented to the public in March of 2016, the line would connect the Hudson electrical substation on Cherry Street with a second substation in Sudbury. Eversource proposed the line as a way to improve the reliability of electricity in Hudson and its surrounding communities after ISO New England, the nonprofit operator of New England’s electrical grid, identified dozens of deficiencies across the region.
Eversource initially suggested building the line above-ground, using metal towers spaced throughout an abandoned railbed for 7.6 miles and along local roads for the remaining 1.4 miles of the route. After local activists voiced their concerns, Eversource changed course, naming an underground line along the same route as its preferred option.
Though they compromised on how it would be built, Eversource stands by its reasoning for why the line is needed.
Currently, Hudson Light and Power (HLP) has two lines running into town. At one point on their path into town, however, those lines hang from the same electrical towers. When any of those crucial towers fail, Hudson temporarily loses much of its electricity.
Eversource’s line would bring electricity into Hudson along a different path, decreasing the likelihood of such outages.
The line may also lower the price of electricity in Hudson by as much as 7 percent as HLP would no longer pay an end-of-line fee that usually ranges between $1 million and $1.5 million per year.
While Protect Hudson and the town’s selectmen do not dispute the need for the project, they oppose building it under local forests.
Though it would be much less impactful than the above-ground option, the underground option would still necessitate clear-cutting a 30-foot-wide path through the forest.
After construction, Eversource would maintain a 22 foot wide path in order to access the line.
Eversource representative Michael Durand said in early July, however, that the company has not made any final decisions on how they would maintain that access.
“Once we make that decision, we will be very open about that as well,” Durand said. “Whatever the decision is, we will be communicating that.”
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has considered building a bike-path along the route, serving the dual purpose of also maintaining access to the line.
Should that job fall to Eversource, however, opponents of the underground option fear the company may use herbicides, which, they fear, could contaminate Hudson’s water supply, some of which is drawn from wells close to the proposed route.
“The potential impact from that alone would be devastating,” Parent said.
After reaffirming that Eversource has not decided if it will use herbicides, Durand added that, where Eversource does use herbicides, it only uses ones approved by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.
As Eversource’s proposal moves to the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which will ultimately decide if and how the line gets built, Protect Hudson and the Hudson selectmen now share the same position. Heeding the advice of their legal team, the selectmen only made that position public, however, after Eversource filed their official proposal with the state.
Simply, Protect Hudson and the selectmen do not oppose the line itself. Rather, they oppose the route under local forests, instead supporting an alternate route that would take the line entirely under local streets.
While Eversource did include the under-the-streets line as an alternative in its proposal, Durand said Eversource is standing by its preferred route. The preferred option is shorter than the under-the-streets option and includes fewer turns in its path. That, according to Durand, would save money for customers who, he said, would ultimately bear the financial cost of construction.
Protect Hudson, however, thinks that is a cost worth bearing. Now, so does the Hudson Board of Selectmen. Far from this project’s conclusion, both groups join the fray together in support of this project’s goal to improve reliability but in opposition to its preferred method of achieving that goal.
“That railbed is an effigy to the industrial age,” O’Neil said. “That corridor would never be considered for this project now if that railbed wasn’t there. That is a healing wound from the industrial era. That needs to close.”