Deepwater substation approved
In a marathon three and a half hour meeting Wednesday evening, the Planning Board issued a number of approvals that included the Deepwater Wind substation, the Energy Component of the town’s Comprehensive Plan and an administrative subdivision on Cooneymus Road. It also amended the decision on Carol Payne’s Development Plan Review.
Deepwater Wind had already received Zoning Board approval for its proposed substation at the Block Island Power Company just last week. But it needed Planning Board approval as well. The public hearing on the application for a Development Plan Review had been continued from January. Though the Town Hall meeting room had been filled for the hearing on the energy plan and Cooneymus Road, the crowd thinned to just a few spectators by the time Deepwater Wind was discussed.
Board members scrutinized the application, interrogating three engineers appearing on behalf of Deepwater about whether they had tried hard enough to place transmission lines underground at the substation, or as the engineers called it, the “switchyard.” The plan presented by the company runs the lines underground from the town beach pavilion on Corn Neck Road and up Beach Avenue to a spot past the corner of Ocean Avenue. There, a dozen or fewer poles up to 40 feet high will carry the lines to and from the switchyard.
Town Attorney Donald Packer advised the engineers and board to focus on the issue of underground versus overhead lines on the site, as other issues had already been addressed.
Len Braden, from DiPrete Engineering, presented the plan for the overhead lines along a causeway that runs from Ocean Avenue to the substation site. Citing the elevation of the land and the wetlands, Braden said they would be digging into the water table there and pumping would be necessary to keep it dry. Also, the wetlands are under state Department of Environmental Management jurisdiction. “There would be too much disturbance,” Braden said. He described the overhead route as best and more practical.
That caused board member Norris Pike to comment, “As a builder, I’ve heard so many times ‘It can’t be done.’ I don’t believe it.”
John Hartley, an environmental specialist from GZA, which conducts geotechnical engineering — analysis of underground conditions — said his main concern was that underground utility lines would disturb contaminated soils on the site and create “a preferential pathway” for water flow like house gutters. The outflow would drain directly into Harbor Pond. He also expressed worries about the safety of workers where the ground remains contaminated.
Even if a current study of contaminants on the site comes up clean, Hartley said it only amounted to two bore holes and contamination could exist in other spots.
Disturbance of the contaminants could lead to a “nightmare,” Deepwater representative Bryan Wilson told them.
“I understand you don’t want to go down where the gremlins live,” Pike said. He suggested an alternative route from Ocean Avenue behind the current BIPCo office as a way the lines could be brought in underground at least part of the way. However, engineer Charles Davis reflected that the poles would then have to be clustered and there would still be almost the same number. BIPCo employee and Town Councilor Dick Martin commented from the audience that because the lines to the town’s power distribution system are also on site, they would be creating a spider web.
Landscape architect Derek van Lent pointed out that the route selected by Deepwater Wind is in a hollow and the poles would not only be further back on the property, they would not appear as tall because they would be on lower land. Placing them closer to Ocean Avenue would make them more visible, he said.
As the engineers and board members gathered around the plan, tracing routes on the map, civil engineer Charles Davis made a convincing plea to the board to accept the overheads. Throwing up his hands, he said, “We spent a year looking at the different routes. This is the logical scenario. It’s the best for the town and best for the project.”
Deepwater Wind CEO Bill Moore, sitting in the back of the room, reminded the board that the transmission station would eventually be purchased by National Grid, and if the contaminated soils are disturbed and require a clean up, the company might beg off. “They won’t take it if it is high risk,” said Moore.
Chair Margie Comings moved the discussion to the site of the substation. The company sought approval for two locations, site A and site B, with the stipulation that it would only build on one, with the other acting as an alternate site. The board and the company preferred site A. Cliff McGinnes Sr., speaking as the representative of the estate of Marjorie McGinnes, which owns the property where site B would be located, declared that “in no way would the substation be built on site B.” Moore concurred that B would only be used if “A falls away” and is “untenable.”
Once the hearing was closed, Pike made a motion to approve with Comings seconding, which was followed by a unanimous vote in favor.
Two years after work began on an energy component to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the Planning Board unanimously voted to send the final document to the Town Council.
The vote followed a public hearing Wednesday night. Though earlier meetings at which drafts were presented had drawn a bombardment of public criticism, the final version was met with little input. The Planning Board received several letters, all in regard to a once-proposed wind turbine (WEC) at the transfer station. Charles Renihan, an attorney for a West Side Road neighborhood group, asked the board to remove any mention of a Public Utility Zone, as well as to place a moratorium on any permits for the transfer station site until a feasibility study has been conducted. Joseph Lombardo, a land use planner hired by that group, recommended specific criteria for WECs be drafted during a moratorium.
Town Planner Jane Weidman responded that the discussion of a Public Utility Zone was “an impetus to this plan. If we strike it out we are erasing the history of the plan.” Comings said that the board planned to work on criteria once the plan was approved, and board member Sven Risom added that the board had already included enough checks and balances. “There are enough speed bumps,” he said.
Board member Socha Cohen was “unclear” about the feasibility study, and Comings said they would look at a number of sites and then pick the best.
Former Planning Board member Rob Gilpin spoke in support of wind energy. “It is unfortunate that one poorly sited turbine caused this backlash,” he said, seemingly refering to the turbine that used to be on the corner of Corn Neck Road and West Beach Road. “I don’t understand why we all can’t come together to find a site for a turbine to benefit all of this town.” He added that, “I am hedging my bets on Deepwater Wind. [Building a town turbine] will be like the mopeds and deer and everything else.”
Bruce Montgomery pointed out that most of the goals in the plan were short-term while three categories, short, medium and long, were possible. Looking them over, Risom agreed the board could review them to provide more balance. However, Pike suggested it would not matter as they will overlap anyway.
The board approved an application by James and Elizabeth Lee for an Administrative Subdivision of Plat 14, lot 39, at the western terminus of Cooneymus Road with board member Mary Anderson recusing herself.
The action was the latest chapter in a long disagreement between the town and several neighbors in the area. In October, the Town Council voted to pursue a plan to relocate the dormant end of Cooneymus Road so that it lies over an existing trail to the beach, which follows a designated state Coastal Resources Management Council path. The council also voted to secure a deed over the land. The application reviewed by the Planning Board was the culmination of talks with owners James and Elizabeth Lee to divide their lot for the road and provide a deed to the town.
Lot 39 will be divided into three lots: a building lot to the south, which already has a house, the end of Cooneymus Road that will be 33-feet wide, and a small triangular lot to the north of the Cooneymus Road that is not to be a building lot and will be identified as such on the subdivision plan.
Neighbor Bruce Montgomery asked the board to delay its decision for a month as his attorney was unable to attend the meeting. The attorney, Evan Leviss, sent a letter asking for the delay, arguing that the intended action was not an Administrative Subdivision, but the creation of a road.
Other public input came from Susie Weissman who asked how many more square feet the Lees were gaining. Town attorney Katherine Merolla responded, “They’re losing land. They deeded Cooneymus Road to the town.” The town’s land use attorney, Don Packer, agreed. “Their lot is being reduced,” he said.
After the board’s affirmative vote, Comings told Montgomery the decision could be appealed to the Zoning Board.
Attorney Nicholas Goreham, representing Clif Payne, requested reconsideration of a verbal, but not yet written, decision from the March 2012 board meeting to allow Carol Payne to modify her Development Plan Review. The change was in the barrier required to keep cars from parking near a well on property owned by the Frank Payne Trust, co-owned by Clif and Carol Payne. That well, on Plat 5, Lot 110, supplies water to Payne’s Dock. The modification that the board approved inadvertently specified the well on Lot 111 would have protection 20 feet from it instead of Lot 110. Attorney Packer, agreeing he’d made a mistake, amended it to read correctly so that both wells on both lots are protected. The board approved the change.
However, Goreham was not satisfied. He is concerned people will park on Lot 110. Both Packer and Comings told him that enforcement was not under the purview of the Planning Board but between the two owners.