Maura In The News

Nstar gets jolt: Hub demands utility hunt down hot spots
By Thomas Caywood
Thursday, February 26, 2004

The city of Boston slapped Nstar with a citation yesterday requiring the company to hunt down all abandoned service wires in the Hub within two weeks and begin yanking them out immediately.

``This interim measure is being implemented pending completion of our review of several incidents involving Nstar and the condition of its wires beneath city streets,'' Inspector of Buildings Gary Moccia wrote in a letter to the power company.

A yellow Lab named Oscar was electrocuted earlier this month on a Charlestown street by an abandoned underground wire.

Nstar officials blamed that incident on contractors who years ago tore down the house once served by the line without bothering to notify the power company.

But a rising chorus of voices is calling on Nstar to survey manhole covers and other equipment to track down and repair any hot spots - a laborious step the company maintains isn't necessary.

John Toner of Mission Hill said he goes out of his way to avoid stepping on manhole covers these days. He's not taking any chances after he and his dog, Blue, were nearly electrocuted in December by stray voltage from a nicked underground service line.

``I felt it going up through my hand,'' recalled Toner, who was zapped when he came to the aid of his yelping pooch.

At least three dogs have been electrocuted in the city over the past four years, including a vizsla killed in February 2000 when he stepped on a wet South End grate hiding several exposed wires from a city light signal box.

``Do we really think there are just the three or four that have already been found here?'' scoffed Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan. ``We have to stop reacting to these after the fact.''

After a New York City woman was electrocuted in January when she fell on an electrified service box cover, Con Edison embarked on a massive survey of manhole covers and service boxes across Gotham. At last count, crews had found nearly 500 hot spots.

But Nstar spokeswoman Christina McKenna said the utility need not follow Con Edison's lead because the deadly New York incident, unlike the one in Charlestown, was sparked by sloppy utility crew workmanship.

``We don't want to do something here that would be misdirected. We want to take steps that will make the situation here safer,'' McKenna said.

City Councilor Michael Ross said he'd feel safer knowing for sure that none of NStar's manhole and service box covers are hot.

``I at least want to know what the cost would be to check every single manhole. Then we can determine whether or not it makes sense,'' said Ross, who has scheduled a hearing on the issue for next month.

The state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, which regulates utilities, also may consider requiring all electric utilities to check for hot spots.

``We're going to get to that question in short order,'' DTE Chairman Paul Afonso said. ``This is a priority. It's on the fast track.''

Hennigan and Ross said they've already seen enough.

``When I see a metal grate,'' Hennigan said, ``I walk around it.''

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