The clash between Island aesthetics and improved utilities has come to a head on the Vineyard over the last several weeks as new, larger utility poles started popping up on Vineyard roads.
Residents and town officials have criticized the new poles as unsightly and out of keeping with the Vineyard’s character, referring the project for review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. NStar, the utility company installing the poles, said this week that the poles are necessary to improve electric service and meet demand.
“The work that we’re doing is part of a very important electric service reliability project for the Vineyard,” NStar spokesman Michael Durand told the Gazette Wednesday.
About six weeks ago, NStar began the installation of about 260 new poles, 180 on public roadways. Most of the poles are replacing existing poles, he said, though some are new.
The old poles averaged 45 feet high, Mr. Durand said, though some were 40 feet and others 50 feet. The new poles are mostly 55 feet tall, though some are shorter. Accordingly, they are slightly wider in diameter.
The poles will be installed along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, he said.
The larger poles are necessary “because the existing ones won’t support the larger heavier wires and equipment that are needed for the project,” Mr. Durand said.
The new project is linked to a brand new submarine cable going between Falmouth and West Chop.
“Demand for electricity has increased and continues to increase,” he said. The project will allow NStar to “meet demand for electricity and continue to provide reliable services.”
“This is a project that will benefit everyone on Martha’s Vineyard because of the changes we’ll be able to make in terms of providing increased amounts of power,” he added.
Mr. Durand said NStar plans to continue road work over the next couple of weeks, and will then be working off-road during the peak summer season. Later in the summer when “things wind down,” he said, work will continue on remaining poles on the street.
The Tisbury selectmen held an emergency session two weeks ago to discuss the poles, voting to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).
At their meeting this week, the selectmen continued their discussion, criticizing NStar for poor communication with the town over the project. The selectmen said they had been trying for several years to have Tisbury’s telephone wires buried underground, yet the new poles, which are taller and wider than the existing poles, were installed without a second thought. Selectman Tristan Israel said NStar claimed its new utility poles would fare better in heavy storms, but burying the lines would protect them just as effectively. “Our community has been trying for years to get the telephone lines buried and have been told that it is too expensive,” Mr. Israel said. “Yet I look at the size of these new poles and the work that went into installing them and am incredulous that [NStar] couldn’t consider burying them as well.”
Selectman Jon Snyder agreed. “The telephone poles are unbelievably ugly,” he said. “And the project was done without any consultation or consideration as to what the town might like.”
Commission DRI coordinator Paul Foley said Wednesday that the commission is actively investigating its jurisdiction over the project, and looking into what permits if any were required and whether they were obtained. A public hearing for the commission to decide whether to review the project is scheduled for July 18.
The Edgartown selectmen took different sides of the issue when they discussed the utiliyt poles this week, debating the destruction of Island aesthetics versus rolling brown-outs.
Selectmen Michael Donaroma suggested sending a letter in support of having the commission review the project, arguing that the poles are out of character and “turning Edgartown Road into Jurassic Park. It’s horrendous.”
“There’s just no consideration for aesthetics at all,” Mr. Donaroma continued. “I think that’s why we have the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.”
Town administrator Pamela Dolby said NStar did not have to come before any town boards to get approval for the poles, and the building inspector made the decision to allow the work.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck said he wanted more information. “There’s a lot of things I’d like to know before we go [sending a letter to the commission],” he said, including “ramifications to the town of Edgartown vis as vis the electrical supply to the town.”
“It might turn out to be something that is necessary, that we wanted them to do,” he said. “We may find out that this is important to the town of Edgartown, and if NStar just suddenly said ‘okay, never mind,’ we could leave ourselves in a real pickle.”
Mrs. Dolby said she would prepare a letter in case selectmen decide to take that action, and would ask someone from NStar to talk with selectmen.
Nicholas Bradley contributed to this story.