The Planning Board held a public hearing Wednesday on an application by Deepwater Wind to construct a substation on either the property of the Block Island Power Company or the adjacent Estate of Marjorie McGinnes (Plat 17, Lots 35, 36, 37, 38, 40).
The substation would connect a cable coming from Deepwater’s proposed five-turbine wind farm to the island electrical grid and to the submarine cable connecting the island to the mainland. Deepwater presented two options.
The first (site A) would be located on BIPCo property directly behind the state garage on Ocean Avenue. The second (site B) would locate the substation near the back of the BIPCo property on land owned by the estate of Marjorie McGinnes. Planning Board members had toured the BIPCo and McGinnes properties in preparation for the meeting.
The board noted several reasons that the second site was less suitable. Board member Socha Cohen said that site A, the location behind the state garage, would blend in better visually, it would have less impact on wetlands and would have better access if there was a flood. Other members noted that site A would require fewer overhead transmission lines. Lines will be overhead, Deepwater explained, because of fears of running into contaminated soil on the properties if they were buried.
Island resident John Willis also protested site B because it would be constructed on land owned by a private estate rather than the power company, which he said would not benefit the ratepayers. Resident Chris Warfel echoed Willis’ sentiments. Town attorney Don Packer reminded the board that the economics of the specific sites were not within their purview; however, Planning Board Vice Chair Norris Pike acknowledged their concerns.
The Planning Board voted to recommend that the Zoning Board approve the application for site A located on BIPCo property.
Deepwater kept the majority of its presentation’s focus on site A, which boarders a wetland area to the east. Those wetlands would be protected with a buffer of a special soil mixture and plant material to filter the run-off into the wetland.
Warfel, who is the owner of Sun Farm Oysters, reminded the board and Deepwater representatives that the wetland empties into the Great Salt Pond and urged them to take the greatest care possible to protect that body of water.
Len Bradley, an environmental engineer with DiPrete Engineering who worked on the design of the substation, assured the board that the run-off plan would follow the Department of Environmental Management’s new stricter regulations for run-off control. The run-off that would be controlled in that system would come only from rain that hit the ground, not water coming off the transformers.
Brook Knodel, an electrical engineer from Mott MacDonald, explained how the transformers and the run-off from them would be contained in the event of a leak. Any leakage from that equipment would be collected in concrete tubs, which would then be pumped out and taken off island.
The chance of an explosion from any of the transformers would be low, said Knodel. He compared their size to that of a medium-size town substation, and said that the oil they would use is a less flammable variety.
Island resident David Lewis asked who would be responsible for maintaining the site. Deepwater Wind Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Grybowski explained that the substation would be divided into two parts: one that would monitor and control the operation of the wind farm and one that would control the power that was flowing to and from the mainland. Deepwater Wind and National Grid would own those two parts respectively.
Grybowski said that a maintenance agreement would be required to determine who had the responsibility to maintain the site. However, he said that a third party contractor would likely be used.
The lighting at night would be limited to downward angled lights at entranceways. These would be on to allow safe access to the substation should someone need to service the station at night. Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm Manager Bryan Wilson said that nighttime servicing would be very rare, but would require additional lighting. He estimated it would occur once or twice a year.
Lewis, who owns property overlooking the BIPCo property, urged Deepwater to keep the lighting as unobtrusive as possible. He noted that the current substation on the property is not too brightly lit and hoped that would be the case with the proposed substation. The board will provide specific guidance for lighting as it completes its development plan review.
Lewis also questioned how much noise the substation’s transformers would emit. Knodel said it would sound like a low hum similar to the current substation, and would be far quieter than the diesel generators that run on the property.
The site would have several buildings constructed on it to hold the equipment to monitor the wind farm and to hold circuit breakers that would protect the transformers. There would also be lead-acid batteries to act as a back up in case of a power outage. The tallest building would be 22 feet tall.
There would be 40-foot poles to bring the transmission lines from the substation along an access road to Beach Avenue. The transmission lines would continue underground along the road to the Town Beach parking lot where they would connect with the submarine cables.
Several trees would line three sides of the substation, screening the buildings and poles from the road. Derek Van Lent of DVL Landscape Architecture designed the landscaping plan. The Conservation Commission voted to endorse the project to the Zoning Board, requesting that native non-invasive plants are used, that the landscaping blend into the existing habitat and that a maintenance program be established.
The Planning Board decided to keep the public hearing open and will continue the discussion of a development plan review at February’s meeting. The Zoning Board will also consider the Deepwater application in February.
At the end of the meeting, Planning member Sam Bird expressed his frustration over the state of the BIPCo property. The site is possibly contaminated with diesel fuel that has leached into the soil from underground storage tanks; fill used to construct the access road could contain big boulders or old vehicles; and board members joked about the possibility of turning up derelict cars among the weeds. Bird acknowledged that the Deepwater application was not the appropriate place to address those concerns but said he was “yearning for a master plan.”
Pike agreed that the entire site needs be addressed and said that the Deepwater substation is the first step in starting that process.
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