WELLFLEET — During a downpour on Oct. 14, seven houses on Dalmas Trail lost power. The homeowners called Eversource for repairs. Then they discovered that they are among an unfortunate — and unknown — number of Outer Cape residents whose electric service equipment is not owned by Eversource.
In the case of Dalmas Trail, and apparently many others streets, the developer installed underground electric cables along a private road off the main utility lines on a public road — in this case, Gross Hill Road. Eversource told the Dalmas Trail residents they would have to pay for the repairs.
The seven homeowners divided up a $35,000 charge from Farrell Electric of Eastham, said Jack McCormick of 70 Dalmas Trail.
“It is really unfortunate,” said Wellfleet Fire Chief Rich Pauley. “There are a lot of roads in the Cape Cod National Seashore that have private equipment, and Eversource refuses to take it over because it was not done with their oversight.”
According to Gerry Parent, a Wellfleet planning board member for over 30 years and a local developer since the 1970s, it is legal for a developer to install utility equipment privately.
Wellfleet has long required subdivision developers to install underground power, Parent said, but most arrange for the electric company to own and maintain the service. It might be less costly to install private equipment, Parent said, but that also leaves the developer liable for repairs if something goes wrong before all the lots are sold.
Wellfleet Town Administrator Rich Waldo said he does not know which roads or homeowners are in the same situation as those on Dalmas Trail. Provincetown DPW Deputy Director Sherry Prada also did not have a list of Provincetown residents who own their own power lines. Truro officials did not respond to inquiries.
Eversource spokesman Chris McKinnon said he was tracking down a list of properties with private utilities but could not produce it before this week’s deadline. Customers can call Eversource and ask who owns the equipment at any given address, McKinnon said.
Though some residents of Dalmas Trail have owned their homes since the 1980s, none of them knew they also owned the neighborhood’s electricity infrastructure.
Sandra Paredes, who works from her 40 Dalmas Trail home while caring for a two-year-old, said that when they lost power on Oct. 14 it took eight days for the power to be restored. Farrell Electric was able to do a quick repair, but then the system failed again, and the electrician said the main cable had to be replaced.
“How is it that we are 100-percent responsible for this and we did not know about this?” Paredes said. “None of us knew.”
They paid for the repair “because we needed power,” Paredes said. They could have had Eversource do the work, but “Farrell Electric told us, if Eversource took it over, it would take eight months and cost four times as much,” McCormick said.
Tim Farrell, the president of Farrell Electric, did not return a call seeking comment.
In July 2020 the 21 residents of Thoreau Drive in Eastham found out they, too, owned underground power lines installed about 50 years ago when the street was developed, said Wayne Sokoly of 75 Thoreau Drive.
They paid Farrell Electric a few hundred dollars each to get their power back. Then they got organized.
Resident Elaine Lipton met with Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. They came up with a plan for the town to pay an estimated $110,000 up front for an upgrade on Thoreau Drive that meets Eversource standards. That would allow Eversource to take ownership, Beebe said. The town will handle the bidding and oversee construction. Each property owner will then pay the town a betterment fee estimated at about $5,000 per home.
“We have submitted design plans to Eversource, and once Eversource approves it, the town will go out to bid,” Beebe said. “We have created a mechanism so people can upgrade utilities and have them taken over by Eversource.”
Eastham found 150 Eversource customers on 64 roads that are in this situation, Beebe added. In some cases, there is a single home on a street with private equipment. Some have privately owned utility poles, and many of the homes are on public roads. Beebe said she will post the list of streets online so people can see for themselves whether they or Eversource owns the lines and, if need be, apply to initiate the process now in motion on Thoreau Drive.
“Every once in a while, I get a complicated problem and there is a solution,” Beebe said. “This is why I love my job.”