National Grid rebuffs town’s offer

Calls it "unacceptable"
Fri, 04/29/2016 - 11:15am

National Grid has flatly rejected a proposal from the Town of New Shoreham that was made in response to a request by National Grid to extend the transmission cable project deadline at Town Beach by 45 days.

Although conversation between the two parties seemed stalled at the end of the week, each side remained hopeful that an agreement could be reached to keep the project moving.

“It was a large amount of money,” National Grid Media Relations Director David Graves said of the offer, the details of which have not been made public. “It was unacceptable. It’s not part of our practice. We need to make sure the Town Council is clear on that issue.”

National Grid’s deadline for completing its cable installation on the island is May 15, but due to drilling delays at Scarborough Beach, the utility company was seeking an extension to June 30.

After the Town Council held a public hearing with National Grid on Wednesday, April 20, the Council voted 4-1 on the matter in closed session on Monday, April 25.

On Wednesday, April 27, National Grid issued the following statement to the Town Council and the Town Manager stating: “During the April 20 Town Council meeting, National Grid presented an easement extension request related to the submarine cable installation, spelling out multiple, specific measures to mitigate possible temporary public and community impacts resulting from the extension. The Council did not accept those measures and instead requested that National Grid pay a large sum to the Town of New Shoreham for purposes some of which we know to be unrelated to the project. The Company has rejected that condition and is reviewing its construction schedule and will contact the Council at the appropriate time. This is an important project for the Company and for the residents and businesses of Block Island, who stand to directly receive the project’s benefits. We’re committed to working with the town and other stakeholders as we continue to advance construction.”

National Grid has admitted that further deadline delays could set the project back a year, but has expressed hope an agreement can be reached. 

“Hopefully, we will be able to come to some understanding to get the job done,” said Graves. “Considering the measures that National Grid presented to the Town Council (at the April 20 meeting), to prevent the disruption of life on the island, we felt that we had taken the steps necessary to alleviate any issues or concerns that the Council, or island residents, had. Apparently, the Council felt otherwise.” 

Town Manager Nancy Dodge said, “As a regulated utility, National Grid does not have flexibility to pay out large sums of money that are only tangentially related to what Grid needs. I think it’s unfortunate that some Council members overroad the good advice the First and Second Warden tried to impart and instead made what was obviously going to be viewed as an excessive demand. There is a great deal at stake here so I hope reason will ultimately prevail.”

“There will be a Town Council agenda item for Tuesday night to discuss and act on Grid’s response,” said Dodge.

Second Warden Norris Pike, the lone dissenting vote on April 25, said the Council’s request “was beyond reasonable. It pretty much boiled down to whether you were pro-project or not. No matter what they could afford it was embarrassing to me. I understand they’ve had problems, but we’re the beneficiaries of the project.”

Pike said he thought the Council “would come to a conclusion on Tuesday, and reach an agreement with National Grid. We’ll get this behind us on Tuesday.”

Councilor Mark Emmanuelle said he was not sure whether National Grid understood the impact of the extension to island business.

“We want to bargain in good faith. But what do you tell an Irish Pub when they might have to close down on St. Patrick’s Day, or Macy’s that 34th Street will be shut down for the month of December? I don’t think National Grid and Deepwater Wind realize how truly short the season is on Block Island,” he said.

 Councilor Chris Warfel said he “didn’t see the communication that was provided” to National Grid. “I don’t have any details, and the reality is I learned of (National Grid’s rejection) via a text message from a resident in Connecticut. So, I am blind on the basis of their comments. I need to see what they wrote to us, and actually, I need to see the document that we provided to them.”

Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski weighed in on the matter, and said, “We are confident that the town and National Grid will find a reasonable way forward. After all, this project will bring both an electric connection to the mainland and fiber optic service to the island. This project is in the home stretch.”

Graves said there have been no further discussions with the town concerning the project, or negotiations. “No word from the town. No new developments,” he said on Thursday morning.