SUDBURY — About 900 people gathered Wednesday night to protest Eversource’s proposal to build an electric transmission line along a defunct MBTA railway, a plan that would require clear-cutting swaths of trees and vegetation.
“This project is a nightmare for my family,” said Sudbury resident Matt Murphy. “Think about having to keep your family away from chemicals Eversource is supposed to use to prevent vegetation.”
The utility, he said, “will leave us with an industrialized town overnight, leaving us with no recourse.”
The proposed transmission line through Sudbury into Hudson is part of an effort by Eversource to create a more reliable electrical transmission grid in New England.
The latest plans, presented to Sudbury selectmen during a meeting held at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, come after months of vocal opposition. The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board will make a final decision.
Eversource said it considered 30 project options, including those suggested by the public, along 22 different routes. Ultimately, the company selected a preferred route along the defunct rail bed with two potential designs, as well as an alternative route beneath Sudbury streets.
Residents said the route along the rail bed would destroy home values, do irreparable harm to conservation land and wildlife, and potentially contaminate the town’s water supply through the use of herbicides.
“Quite simply this project is unnecessary,” said Sudbury resident Ted Wynn. “The only beneficiary of this project is Eversource and its shareholders. For them to come in here and try to spin this as an economic benefit to this town is an insult.”
The 9-mile route along the rail bed has two designs: one placing all power lines above ground, and the other placing them underground. The overhead version would require the construction of 90 structures and a right-of-way clearing of 82 feet. The underground version would require a 30-foot right-of-way clearing.
The 10.5-mile alternative route would put all lines underneath Sudbury streets. It would involve installing about 30 manholes and then constructing cables between each one.
“There’s potential significant impact to traffic,” said Beverly Schultz, lead project manager at Eversource. “We need to come up with a path in order to fit our very large conduit bank.”
The cost for a route using all overhead lines along the MBTA rail bed is $37 million, while the cost for all lines underneath the rail bed is $85 million. The cost for the alternative plan beneath streets is $113 million, according to Eversource.
“Our next step is to review the feedback we received at last night’s meeting and use it to consider any possible additional refinements to our plan before we file it with the state,” Mike Durand, an Eversource spokesman, said Thursday. “We expect to have our plan finalized in time to file it with the siting board by the end of the year.”
Eversource representatives assured residents Wednesday night that the chemicals used in vegetation management were approved and registered for use by federal and state agencies, and also said studies show that transmission lines rarely impact property values. Their statements were met with a loud chorus of boos from the crowd.
The advocacy group Protect Sudbury has been working with town, state, and federal officials to fight the plan. Chris Hamilton, a director for Project Sudbury, said the group plans to pursue legal action as well.
“We will challenge every assumption in their plan, starting with the need for this project,” he said.
The town’s Board of Selectmen agreed, with selectman Chuck Woodard promising a long battle ahead.
“Sudbury’s going to be a very formidable opponent on this,” he said. “This project is catastrophic in every way imaginable.”