GUEST COMMENTARY: Is NStar plan deceptive?
By Duncan Oliver
Fri Jan 02, 2009
YARMOUTH - Exactly one week before Christmas, something slipped under the radar of most Cape Codders. It was done expertly and with virtually no fanfare. The few abutters were notified in the minimum time required; pictures of the proposal were placed in South Yarmouth Library, away from the spot where the project would occur, rather than at nearby Yarmouth Port Library.
What was this event? The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and NSTAR conducted a hearing for a substation to increase the reliability of power to the mid-Cape region. No one denies the substation is needed; it was the methods used and the place chosen that raised the concern of those aware of the project. The DPU lawyer conducting the hearing stated that this hearing time was the most convenient to the DPU and NSTAR. When told it wasn’t convenient for the town or its people, he did not change, stating he had extended the formal response time by four days because the regular response time would have landed on Christmas day.
Townspeople present were not NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard). All knew a substation was needed, but couldn’t understand why another location that met all NSTAR requirements wasn’t chosen. NSTAR chose a piece of former Boy Scout camp property, located off Strawberry Lane. The 10-acre parcel nearly dissects a large conservation area owned by the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, the town of Yarmouth and the Boy Scouts.
At the hearing, no one from NSTAR could provide real answers, such as did this former Boy Scout property have a covenant forbidding development? Some NSTAR people had been replaced by others who did not have the knowledge and could only say “I’ll get back to you.” No maps were presented by NSTAR to show the locations of the Harwich and Barnstable sub-stations, or the eight considered locations. NSTAR stated it is looking for a location midway between the two existing substations.
Some of the NSTAR pictures were poor representations of what changes would occur. One set showed the new road off Strawberry Lane, looking east and hidden by the crest of the hill. Thus the new road was barely visible. Had the pictures been taken looking west at the site, they would have to have shown a 40-foot roadway, an eight-foot high chain link fence and a gate. Deception? Some in the crowd thought so.
Trees have already been cut along the boundary of this land, some of them on Historical Society property. This wasn’t the town keeping open fire trails — that was checked. Is NSTAR starting even before approval?
Why so much complaint? There are walking trails throughout this pristine area, as well as a nature habitat for endangered species. Historically, it borders the location of the first golf course on Cape Cod, long since grown in. A suitable location is within a mile of this one, existing in a commercial area near Route 6 that doesn’t impact conservation, walking trails or history. Why didn’t NSTAR choose this other site? It costs more — 6 percent more for the entire project of $15 million.
How does one deal with arrogance such as this? Complain to the DPU, to any elected representatives and to NSTAR. Will it do much good? One can always hope, but Skaket Corners in Orleans is a great example of how little our public utilities care about Cape Cod.
Don’t let it happen in Yarmouth! By the way, NSTAR’s Web site states “NSTAR is committed to conducting its business in a way that least impacts the environment.”
Duncan Oliver is a writer and historian, and teaches Cape Cod history adult education classes.