An order from the state attorney general to the Connecticut Siting Council to rescind controversial best management practices that pertain to the upgrade of power lines between Middletown and Norwalk will not delay the council’s final decision, according to the council’s executive director.

But the council will have to adopt an older version of its best management practices – the guidelines that will govern how the new power line is implemented.

“The earlier version of the EMF [best management practices] were not in any way contradictory to the more recent version [that was rescinded],” the council’s Executive Director Derek Phelps wrote in an e-mail. “They were just much simpler and more limited.”

The power line upgrade has been controversial because part of the line in Fairfield County is to be buried, while the rest of the line is to be above ground. High voltage lines generate electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs, which some studies have shown can cause cancer. Many lawmakers and citizens in areas where the line is slated to be above ground have asked that the entire line be buried, but the council’s best management practices say only part of the line can be buried without causing technical problems.

“The 69-mile, 345-kilovolt electric transmission line proposed in this case is a construction project of huge scale and scope – virtually unprecedented in our state’s history – through one of the most densely populated and highly developed areas of the country,” Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a prepared statement released after he ordered the council to rescind the most recent version of its best management practices. “It will permanently and massively alter and scar our landscape, first affecting features of our physical land and natural resources, but ultimately impacting our health, environment and quality of life.

“The council must fully and completely examine all evidence relating to undergrounding and affirmatively determine whether miles of undergrounding can be added to the 24 miles of proposed cable,” he added. “Such undergrounding of 345-kilovolt cable is already common and cost-effective.”

‘A Central Issue’

The power line upgrade has been controversial since it was first announced about two years ago. The two power companies that proposed the upgrade say the transmission system there now doesn’t meet national reliability standards. The proposed upgrade was initially estimated to cost about $600 million, but a late December report shows that the upgrade could now cost nearly $1 billion.

The Siting Council’s best management practices came under fire earlier this month when a group of legislators asked Blumenthal to delay the decision on the power line. The lawmakers, led by state Sen. Len Fasano, R-East Haven, had concerns that the council communicated outside of meetings with the power companies that proposed the upgrade.

The legislators have expressed concerns that the council did not receive input from varied sources when its members made a decision to bury part of the line in Fairfield County, but to leave the part extending from Milford to Middletown above ground. Lawmakers want as much of the line as possible to be buried because of possible health concerns surrounding any power lines that generate electric and magnetic fields, as a result of the studies linking those fields to health issues.

The best management practices address those health concerns by calling for a buffer zone around the above-ground lines.

In a March 15 letter that followed a flurry of back-and-forth communications between the attorney general’s office and the Siting Council, Blumenthal asked the council to rescind its best management practices.

“Conversations with only one party to this contested case about a central issue in the case at minimum presents the appearance of impropriety,” Blumenthal wrote. “This fact is especially true here, where the communications that occurred were between council staff working on the Phase II case and a [Connecticut Light & Power Co.] employee who appeared as a witness for the applicants in this proceeding presenting testimony concerning the applicants’ position on [electric and magnetic fields].”

Blumenthal’s letter also stated that the Siting Council revised its best management practices without notice to or input from the public and other parties. Only one party in the case – the power companies – knew that the best management practices were being revised, according to Blumenthal. Some council members may not have been aware of the communications between the power companies and other members of the council, he said.

But that may have been because of the tight timeframe the council was facing.

“Despite the best efforts of the council to comply with [a directive requiring the council to report to the General Assembly], the timeframe provided for completing this work simply did not permit the type of ‘open and transparent process, allowing comment and an opportunity for discussion’ by all concerned persona and organizations, called for by your most recent correspondence,” wrote Siting Council Chairman Pamela B. Katz in a March 17 letter to Blumenthal.

However, Katz also wrote that the council would comply with Blumenthal’s recommendation that it rescind its newest version of its best management practices, and instead would use the version originally in place.

“Under the circumstances, the council must immediately rescind its revised [electric and magnetic fields best management practices],” Blumenthal wrote to the council. “The council should adopt an open, inclusive and transparent process, allowing comment and an opportunity for discussion by all parties to the present proceeding when drafting any revisions to the [electric and magnetic fields best management practices].”

In addition, Katz wrote that the council recognizes that further efforts to adopt updated practices would be “appropriate and desirable.” The council has hired an independent consultant to start that process, she wrote.

Two Connecticut utility companies, The United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power Co., filed for the power upgrade in late 2003 with the Siting Council, which is the group that approves such projects. The project would upgrade the outdated 115-kilovolt power lines that stretch through southwestern Connecticut.