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Effort for car-charging station shorts out in Lebanon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2020 9:02:44 PM
Modified: 8/10/2020 9:02:40 PM

LEBANON — Plans to bring four electric vehicle charging stations to downtown Lebanon hit a speed bump after the nonprofit spearheading efforts withdrew from the project, citing regulatory hurdles that slowed progress.

Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, notified city leaders late last month that it no longer intends to build charging stations in a parking lot across the street from the CCBA’s Witherell Recreation Center.

Instead, the organization intends to refocus its efforts on another spot in the Upper Valley, although it hasn’t yet disclosed where. Messages sent to Electrify America officials on Monday weren’t returned.

The decision was met with disappointment from the Lebanon city councilors, who traded barbs with the state over who was to blame for the death of the project they hoped would draw new visitors to downtown.

Utility lines that would fuel the stations needed to cross an old railroad right-of-way on Taylor Street, but efforts to get approval from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation went unanswered, according to Assistant Mayor Clifton Below.

“They basically were obstructionist and were really happy to hear that Electrify America had withdrawn the lease because that way, they didn’t have to deal with it,” he told the council during a meeting Wednesday night.

The city and Electrify America signed a deal in February that would have seen the nonprofit set aside money from Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” settlement for two DC Fast Chargers.

The charging stations are the fastest on the market, providing an electric vehicle with 60-80 miles of range after plugging in for just 20 minutes. They’re also among the most expensive, with each station priced between $200,000 and $300,000.

As part of the agreement, the company also planned to install two Level 2 charging stations, which provide 10 to 20 miles of range after an hour of charging. They cost $5,000 to $10,000 each.

Officials hoped the new infrastructure would attract travelers on nearby Interstate 89 — a major travel corridor between Boston and Montreal — to visit local shops and eateries while their car recharged.

However, the plans hit trouble as officials wrangled over a right-of-way that once allowed freight on the Northern Railroad to access downtown.

“Nobody knows what the boundaries of the state right-of-way are versus what’s the city street,” Below said in a phone interview Monday.

The city, he said, believes an agreement was reached in the late 1990s giving it management over the land. That’s why there’s now a roughly five-foot sidewalk and trees planted over it.

Utility lines also crisscross the right-of-way in about six other spots downtown, including two within 100 feet of the proposed charging stations, Below said.

But there’s no record of that deal at City Hall, which led Liberty Utilities to file records requests with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

“They never produced it,” Below said, adding that state officials used the COVID-19 pandemic as an “excuse” to stonewall.

However, Patrick Herlihy, director of Aeronautics, Rail and Transit at the DOT, said it was Lebanon that failed to follow through.

After discussions in December, “we never received a formal request back from the City,” he said in an email. And when the state reached back out in July, “we were informed that the project was not moving forward.”

Tad Montgomery, Lebanon’s energy and facilities manager, called Electrify America’s decision “sad” but said all is not lost.

The nonprofit, he said, expressed “substantial remorse” in moving on and would be open to returning if its next location doesn’t work out or in future funding cycles.

“There’s still a good chance that we’re going to make something happen,” Montgomery said on Monday.

In the meantime, he’s been instructed to file public records requests on behalf of the Lebanon to determine whether its responsible for the right-of-way and enter into talks with the Carter Community Building Association, which could play host to an alternative site nearby.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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