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Selectmen approve warrant article for new electrical substation

January 09, 2019
WOLFEBORO — A hearing was held during the Board of Selectmen's (BOS) Jan. 2 meeting to discuss a proposed warrant article to raise and appropriate $3,655,000 from the Electrical Enterprise Fund for the construction of a new 12.47kV substation at the site of the former substation adjacent to the Glendon Street Parking Lot and voltage conversion upgrades along Forest Road, North Main Street and surrounding areas.

Upon approval by a two thirds vote in March, the article will give the go ahead to complete Phase #5 of the Electrical Distribution Conversion project to be paid for with bonds paid over time with surplus funds of the Electrical Enterprise Fund. It therefore does not have an impact on the tax rate, and according to the language of the article, it also will not result in an increase in the electric rate.

The board approved the article, but not without first hearing from residents displeased with the idea of a new substation rising from the foundation of the former substation. Paul Whalen, whose property abutts the fenced in area adjacent to the Glendon Street Parking Lot and Foss Field, first presented his concerns to the board in August of possible health risks of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) and Electromagnetic (EMF) Fields on neighboring residents, the noise emitted, and the esthetics of such a structure in what has become an active pedestrian byway.

Barry Muccio, Director of the Municipal Electric Department (MED) responded formally to Whalen's issues at the Dec. 12 BOS meeting. In regard to EMR and EMF, he said that the "voltage and current levels that would be present are typically found on roadsides allover New Hampshire. The equipment is inside a fenced enclosure which separates it from the public and the field that is present drops off with distance."

In consideration of noise levels, Muccio said a low noise transformer would be purchased. Speaking to concern about the optics, he showed an artist's rendering of the proposed substation with vegetation and fencing providing some screening.

At the Jan. 2 hearing, Whalen offered appreciation that Muccio had increased the appropriation request by $20,000 to include landscaping and fencing design and construction, but likened the esthetic modifications to "putting lipstick on a pig." He commented that the substation fit in when the area was industrial, but that is no longer the case. In his view the new substation will have a negative impact on property values.

Julie Jacobs offered the opinion that having a substation in that busy area by Back Bay does not fit with the town's Master Plan.

In turn, Union Street resident Curt Gilmore suggested that Muccio look at another site, and spoke of a 33 acre wooded site, which he said met zoning requirements, but Muccio said a number of easements would have to be solicited to see if it was even possible. Aside from that, the MED needs to position the substation closer to the high load downtown area.

Jacobs questioned if land near Wickers could be used, but Muccio responded that the electricity has to be distributed to handle the load along South Main Street.

Discussion concluded with a question from Suzanne Ryan on the difference in price of relocating the substation to a different site. The answer was $250,000 and again, it would not be as close to the high load area.

The board approved the article for the 2019 warrant, with a comment from Murray that the voters will have the last say in the voting booth in March.

The board is preparing for a televised presentation on the local cable access channel (Ch. 25 of Wolfeboro Community Television) on all 2019 warrant articles in detail in mid January.

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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