Cable Replacement Project Is In Removal Phase
Have Any Lessons Been Learned?
By William Legault
Not that long ago, but seemingly very long ago National Grid announced that the time had come to replace the decades-old transmission cable that runs from Salem Station, down Derby Street to Washington and Canal Streets where the switching station sits on a hill beneath Cedar Street.
What appeared to be a fairly simple and straightforward process, running a new transmission cable and then removing the old transmission cable proved to be everything but simple. Complications arose almost immediately.
The old cable could not be removed until the new cable was in place. That would have led to some serious service interruption for many electricity consumers.
Massachusetts is one the few states that actually requires that old insulated transmission cables be removed. They cannot be left in place due to the presence of mineral oil. Anything in large amounts, even water can be dangerous but it seems a bit of stretch to consider the small amount of mineral oil in a cable to be toxic.
The major complication however, was the attitude that one neighborhood in Salem is more important in either an historic or contemporary sense than another. The “dig over there, not here” crowd became quite loud and frequently bordered on elitist. Neighborhoods full of homes from the from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century did not want their lives and homes disrupted. It also became a fight that involved local businesses who seemed to feel that their concerns and tax contributions trumped those of the residents.
The simpler and more direct route for the new cable would have been to run it down the same route as the old cable. Straight down Derby Street to New Derby Street, left onto Washington Street and then a straight shot to Canal Street and the sub-station. There is also a secondary cable that runs down Derby Street left onto Lafayette Street and then up Cedar Street into the sub-station. Yes this would have caused difficulties to business and residents, but no more or less than in other neighborhoods
The businesses at Pickering Wharf and on Derby Street were the first to object arguing that disrupting their businesses would be bad as a whole for the city. While their point was well considered and well taken, the facts were that the entire business would be bad for the city in the short term. That is the nature of these types of projects. Derby Street residents were quick to step up and join the protest. After all, nobody wants their street disrupted and they were looking at being inconvenienced twice.
What resulted was a debate over which route would be the least disruptive, which neighborhood would be least inconvenienced, and which neighborhood was more important to the business of running a city.
The Pickering Wharf and Derby Street merchants did not want their businesses disrupted by the first option presented. The Hawthorne Hotel did not want their business disrupted by the use of either the second or third option, both of which went by their front door. And the Salem Witch Museum objected to the third option for the same reasons.
In the end it was the second option that was selected and it was the residents of lower Essex Street, Forrester Street, Washington Square South, and Hawthorne Boulevard that were subjected to disruption, inconvenience, and potential damage to their historic homes. It may not have been as disruptive as some thought, but it still was not what they wanted.
Now, due to the law that requires removal of the old cable Derby Street is about to experience their part of the process.
Perhaps it was better this way. The pain was spread out a bit, but I don’t think that makes the residents of Forrester Street feel any better.
It is good that we look out for own own neighborhoods, but there are also times when we we all as citizens should look to the overall well being of the city and make that the priority.