Zoning approves Deepwater substation

Fri, 04/06/2012 - 1:00pm
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At a special meeting Tuesday, the Zoning Board approved Deepwater Wind’s application to construct a substation on property owned by the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) and/or the Estate of Marjorie McGinnes, on Plat 17, lots 35-38 and 40.

The tract of land is off Ocean Avenue, behind the current BIPCo power station. The transmission station would replace the smaller substation already on the BIPCo property and bring power from the five wind turbines the company seeks to build three miles off Block Island’s south coast. This “demonstration project” would deliver power to Block Island residents, and any excess electricity would travel to the mainland via an underwater cable. That cable, should it be built, would also bring power to the island from the mainland when the turbines are not turning.

While the zoning approval covers both sites the company applied for, actual construction will only be allowed on one, with site A, which BIPCo owns entirely, the preferred location. Site B, which BIPCo does not own, is surrounded by a horseshoe of wetlands, which makes it less suitable. Any rent BIPCo receives for Site A would be plowed back into the company and be part of the calculation for customer rates. The Zoning Board decided that Site B could be used only if Site A doesn’t pass other regulatory hurdles; also, a public hearing would be required.

The Zoning Board approval also stipulated that state regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Management, approve at least one of the sites, and that cost should not control Deepwater Wind’s siting decision.

In its findings of fact, the board found that adding to the town’s power infrastructure is consistent with the town’s goals; the station would be compatible with the existing use of the site for an electric generation facility; and that there would be no negative effect on the neighborhood’s character and no great changes to vegetation.

The board did, however, add that the osprey nest on BIPCo property should not be disturbed. If the nest needs to be moved, there would need to be a review of the new location.

In approving a height variance for transmission line poles, the board stipulated the poles would be allowed only if a study currently underway finds that underground lines are not feasible on the property. Deepwater Wind had testified that the soil might be contaminated and is better left undisturbed. The lines will, however, be underground between the substation property and the shoreline on Beach Avenue, where Deepwater plans for them to emerge from the sea bottom.

The height variance limits the poles to 40 feet, but only to meet utility regulations on those power lines for distances required from the ground. Should that distance turn out to be less than 40 feet, the poles would have to be shorter.

Other stipulations included adequate landscaping to preserve the views from Ocean Avenue.

Mott appeal decided

The Zoning Board ruled against Peter Mott’s appeal of a Notice of Violation issued on December 1 for his car repair business near the Oar. Mott said that inclement weather forced him to use the garage before completion and before receiving the building official’s approval. The board’s decision, read by Kate Butcher, found that inclement weather did not count as a hardship. Mott’s attorney, Elliot Taubman, told the board Mott is completing the building.