Residents erupt at Clinton power-line forum

A Clinton forum on the high-voltage power lines proposed for the Hudson Valley dissolved into an angry protest by residents that cut off a presentation by National Grid representatives May 13.

Parking spots and unoccupied seats were in short supply as residents flocked to town hall for the forum, organized by Town Supervisor Ray Oberly. Also there were representatives of
Central Hudson, along with the Clinton Town Board, County Legislator Joel Tyner, and members of the “No Monster Power Lines” coalition.

Oberly opened the meeting, struggling to bring the room to order above the din. He then requested that National Grid’s representatives proceed with detailing their plans to upgrade the existing 115-volt power lines in Clinton to 345 volts so that residents would have enough time to ask questions.

The presentation was a short PowerPoint on the project, which, according to state specifications, must have 1,000-megawatt capacity, alternating current (AC), and be constructible by June 2018. National Grid plans to replace 60 of the aging 80-foot towers through Clinton with 130-foot towers in the existing corridor. Alternatively, rather than stacking the wires vertically, National Grid’s towers could be 105 feet and spread horizontally, which would require 10 feet of additional land alongside the corridor taken by eminent domain under regulations that require a set amount of ground clearance between individual lines.

Currently, the public and the four utility applicants for the $1 billion, 153-mile-long project are awaiting further directions from the state Public Service Commission before the review process can move forward.

At the Clinton forum, however, nobody was waiting. Five minutes into the question-and-answer portion of the forum, the meeting turned unruly as residents, furious at the prospect of potential property seizures and massive power towers through their town, shouted out questions and criticisms without allowing the presenters a chance to answer.

“Why can’t you put them across the river by the railroad track? Nobody lives there!” demanded one woman out of turn.

“Where is the money coming from to pay for building the towers?” another resident wanted to know.

“The rate recovery mechanism hasn’t been determined yet,” the National Grid representative and project manager, Jim Bunyan, answered over sarcastic chuckles and smirks from the audience.

“Normally, the ‘beneficiary’ of the project is the one that provides the financial burden. I have no idea how that beneficiary is going to be calculated or determined,” he continued, which further fired up the crowd and prompted a series of vocal jabs against New York City, Central Hudson, and the state.

“You’re never going to sell your houses!” shouted Chuck Ferri, a local real estate broker, while brandishing a large, yellow land auction sign he had procured from Slate Quarry Road. “That poor bastard, he never sold his land—he lost it!”

In a more measured manner, Kimberly Usewicz, a representative from Assemblywoman Didi Barrett’s office, said, “We’ve been on top of this issue and are very supportive of all of [the public’s] concerns… We’re getting calls from people that are from other counties looking to move to the Hudson Valley, and they’re scared that once they buy, they won’t be able to do anything with that property.”

“In one mile, where I live, the corridor would affect four houses built in the 1700s—houses that are historic to this community” another resident added.

“There are many more people affected because they have the viewshed that they’re going to be stuck with of these towers sticking above the tree lines, so it’s not just the 150 properties or whatever the number is [along the corridor]” Oberly said, summarizing an array of comments addressing the aesthetics of the plan.

Councilman Frank Venezia took a turn in the pandemonium, as well. “Simple question,” he told Bunyan. “If the Public Service Commission said, ‘We want it underground,’ do you have a problem with that? Would you be able to engineer it? Would you be able to do it? Or would you walk away from the deal?”

After Bunyan, visibly irritated and with clenched teeth, talked around the question without answering it for three minutes, Venezia said, “It sounds like you would have a problem with that.”

Ultimately, Oberly’s attempts to retain some semblance of order failed, and the National Grid representatives declined his request to conclude the forum in any formal manner.

Amid cheers and intermittent rounds of applause, resident Sharon Kotler took the microphone to say, “Our voices have to be heard very clearly to the PSC and to the governor, because that’s where the rules are being laid forth. … The problem is that the rules are wrong. The very legacy of the Hudson River Valley is at stake here. [We] are not powerless in this!”

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