Property owners along Bethany Beach’s Wellington Parkway voiced their opposition this week to a proposal to bring power from NRG BlueWater Wind’s wind farm – planned for off the coast of Rehoboth Beach – to land via a high-voltage transmission cable running along that street to the South Bethany substation of the Indian River power plant.
Four property owners – Steve and Regina Trodden, Joan Slattery-Burke and Julie Slattery-Brown – recently canvassed their neighboring property owners along Wellington Parkway as to whether they would oppose or support the plan, in the wake of a presentation made by NRG at Bethany Beach Town Hall on Feb. 18.
In their letter to their neighbors, the Concerned Owners of Wellington Parkway note that the private Middlesex Beach community offers the most direct route to the South Bethany substation but that Middlesex Beach had rejected the notion “because of the impacts on a developed, residential community.”
They also noted “a widely held perception that proximity to high-voltage power lines constitutes a health hazard” – an issue one of their neighbors had raised at the NRG presentation and to which NRG representatives replied by referencing government studies that suggest that underground power lines are not a significant safety concern.
Steve Trodden told the Coastal Point this week that he and his fellow property owners were as concerned about the perception of health risks as they would be about any actual risk.
“No amount of studies will erase this perception,” the group’s letter to the neighbors reads. “As long as such perceptions exist, property values and rental incomes will be negatively impacted.”
The letter also points out that there are alternative landing sites and routes for the power line on undeveloped land to both the north and the south of the town.
“We don’t want to be NIMBY,” Trodden said of any perception that the group might oppose the plan simply for a “not in my back yard” reason. “We would oppose this in any residential area.”
The response the group garnered – from owners of 50 of the 68 properties on Wellington Parkway – suggests that the Trodden and Slattery clans aren’t the only ones owning property there who would oppose bringing NRG’s power line under the beach at Wellington Parkway and then down the street to the substation on Kent Avenue.
Of the 50 households responding, 48 indicated their opposition to the plan, while another indicated they would oppose the plan unless appropriate landscaping and restoration was done by NRG and one other owner supported the proposal. With both of the latter positions counted as supporting the plan, that’s 96 percent opposition, the group pointed out this week.
Trodden emphasized on Monday that the opponents of the proposal were concerned about both “the potential for genuine health hazards associated with exposure to high-voltage power lines and the reality of the public’s perception of those hazards.”
“We understand that NRG BlueWater has stated that buried power lines are safer than overhead power lines. However, there are no studies to date that are definitive on the subject. More importantly, even if there were such studies, the perception problem would remain,” read the group’s letter this week to the Bethany Beach Town Council. Already, they noted, Planning Commissioner Fulton Loppatto suggested the town have a study done to address the perception that there is risk in being near the lines.
“In short, if the buying or renting public is leery of our beach or of our street because it lies over a high-voltage power line, then the detriment to our town and to our property values would be substantial,” the letter to the town council states. “If further studies confirm the health hazards, the detriment would be catastrophic. If studies counter the fear of health hazards, the detriment to our town and to our property values would still be substantial because of the marketplace psychology.”
The letter urges the council to “immediately reject” the proposal, for Wellington Parkway or any other residential street. That kind of limitation would essentially limit any landing site in Bethany Beach to Garfield Parkway and the town’s bandstand area, which had previously been mentioned as a possible landing site but which NRG officials have since said was less desirable than Wellington Parkway.
The opponents noted that many of the town’s streets would be wide enough for the project but reiterated their opposition to using any residential street, while also chastising NRG officials for what they said was usurping the council’s “prerogative” in “prematurely linking Wellington Parkway with their proposal.”
They also rejected the notion that NRG could sufficiently compensate the town for using the street as a landing site for the power line.
“No amount of money would make us support the placement of this cable on a residential street,” they asserted, while allowing that, were such a thing to happen, the monies paid by NRG should go to the property owners whose properties were affected.
They also emphasized the need for the council to “immediately reject” the proposal, saying, “Prolonged deliberations by the town council on NRG’s proposal would also hurt us. As long as the issue is pending, the uncertainty feeds the negative psychology previously described. Any Wellington Parkway owner planning to sell or rent has already been negatively impacted.”
Not yet polled on the issue are property owners along the segment of Kent Avenue that would also be impacted – either inside or outside town limits – but the Wellington Parkway group suggests that “they would have concerns similar to ours.”
Trodden said this week that he had supplied documentation of the Wellington Parkway property owners’ opposition to the proposal to both state Sen. George Howard Bunting (D-20th) and Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th), the latter of whom promised town residents at the Feb. 18 meeting that both legislators would make sure the final decision on the issue was up to the people of Bethany Beach.
The Bethany Beach Town Council has not yet set a date for any consideration of the proposal by the council, nor has any additional public meeting or hearing been set. Expectations as of Feb. 18 were that multiple meetings and considerable feedback from the town’s citizens would be involved in any decision, along with one or more studies – which Mayor Tony McClenny dictated should be paid for by NRG but conducted by an independent reviewer.
Future issues of the Coastal Point will track this story as it progresses.