Amherst councilors question buildup of utility poles and wires 

  • Utility poles on Woodside Avenue and Northampton Road in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Utility poles on Woodside Avenue and Northampton Road in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Utility poles on Woodside Avenue and Northampton Road in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/28/2022 8:54:13 AM
Modified: 1/28/2022 8:52:56 AM

AMHERST — Requests for installation of utility poles and overhead electrical wires in the town’s right of way, brought before the Town Council this week, is prompting Amherst officials to seek ways for the power supplier to cut down on what one councilor described as “clutter.”

While the Town Council Monday approved a pole on Triangle Street needed to upgrade service to the Emily Dickinson Museum and another pole on Flat Hills Road for a new home, and gave Town Manager Paul Bockelman authority to grant an easement so four poles can be put in on the Echo Fill Access Road to the solar project on the capped landfill, the elected officials asked Eversource representatives to find ways of putting utilities underground or minimize their visibility.

“There's a real feeling of willy-nilly, add a pole here, add a pole there as you need them, and you keep needing them here and there,” said District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

Pam said the “clutter” of poles and wires is a concern and she would like to get an analysis about whether more power lines could be put underground, or fewer poles could be used.

“I think it's time to look at these things with a different set of eyes,” Pam said.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne said she would like to get a report from town staff on the pros and cons of consolidating the number of poles.

Not yet approved by the Town Council was a new pole for Woodside Avenue that will accommodate three-phase power for Amherst College and the new lyceum building it is constructing on South Pleasant Street. The project will come back to the council’s meeting on Feb. 7.

Nicholas Langone, district representative and field technician for Eversource, said many poles are needed because wires can only span a maximum of 150 feet.

To reduce the number of poles on Woodside, for instance, Langone said he would have to see if there is a way of staking a new route for them from Northampton Road/ Route 9. Already, he said, new poles will have to replace existing poles for the three-phase power.

“I will take a look at it and produce my findings,” Langone said.

Though a pole was approved for 76 Flat Hills Road, there were questions about whether an underground conduit could go to the pole, rather than another overhead wire.

“Why can't the existing wire go underground to the house,” asked District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen.

Eversource representative Anthony Gentile said there would likely need to be other permissions to trench across the road.

Council President Lynn Griesemer, who lives on Flat Hills, said her neighborhood is susceptible to power outages because of the tree canopy, and that she would support seeing more wires move underground.

Langone said his company’s goal is to build redundancies into the system so power is restored as soon as possible, adding that Eversource doesn’t want power outages to happen.

But he also cautioned that undergrounding wires is expensive and time consuming and could have unintended consequences. “It'd be a massive, massive project to put all of our overhead equipment underground,” Langone said.

Along with potsponing the Woodside pole, councilors held off on approving a pole for 46 Rolling Ridge Road where the power company needs to have more conversations with the resident who requested it. If put underground, it will not come back before the council.

As for the pole approved at 20 Triangle St., the Town Council recommended that Eversource consolidate existing poles to minimize the trimming of shade trees. Pam said the pole is also going to be installed in proximity to the Dickinson Museum, Amherst Woman's Club and historic properties.

“I do think reducing pole numbers or sizes would be a good thing to do, or at least look at it,” Pam said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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