2015-06-04 / Front Page

National Grid Raises Concerns

By Olga Enger

Tensions were high on Monday, June 1, as Middletown councilors challenged National Grid representatives on their proposed $90 million project, citing possible negative impacts to the environment and residents.

At the regularly scheduled town council meeting, the energy company presented the project plans, which include large infrastructure upgrades expected to be completed by 2020. Although they displayed pictures of electrical systems with less wires and attractive plantings around the perimeter of the substations, Councilor Henry Lombardi called it a “monstrosity” which would ruin the property value of the neighbors and potentially impact the water quality of Bailey Brook.

“Middletown just went through debate about open space and putting in ball fields. We didn’t do it because it would impact the water quality in the area,” said Lombardi. “This area is just as sensitive ecologically. I have a real problem with this. “

A study showed local energy usage has increased by nearly 50 megawatts since 1990. The company claims in order to bring more reliable power to the nearly 32,000 homes and businesses on the island, the project, called “OnIsland” (officially named the Aquidneck Island Reliability Project), is required to meet the growing demand.

The upgrades include construction of two new substations in both Middletown and Newport, reconfiguration of two high-voltage transmission lines in Portsmouth and Middletown, and an array of local distribution work in Middletown and Newport. Five existing substation will be decommissioned.

Kevin Smith, who lives next to the proposed new substation on Jepson Lane, said it will devalue his house at least 50 percent and ruin his quality of life. He said he offered to sell his house to National Grid, but they declined, citing it was not in their budget.

“I’ve discussed my ‘so-called options’ with National Grid. The options included how much shrubbery I want. There is no way to screen my property from this. I’ve been lied and cheated to throughout this process,” said Smith. “I’ve worked two jobs for 25 years to keep a roof over my family. I won’t be able to sell, retire. Everything I’ve worked for will be lost.”

After listening to Smith’s concerns, Town Council President Robert Sylvia asked why National Grid could not build the new substation on their existing site.

National Grid Civil Engineer Dan McIntyre said it was impractical because they need to provide power throughout the project. “It just doesn’t work. It was built in 1953. There have been a lot of changes in code. Modern day substations are just bigger,” he said.

Mclntyre did not deny the substation would produce noise, especially during peak usage in the summer. He said to accommodate the neighbor’s concerns, they plan to build a sound wall to reduce the impact. Although the engineer said the noise level would fall within the town’s noise ordinance, the project team expects to seek a noise level variance from the town.

“You are a multi-billion dollar, British-held company,” Lombardi said, unsatisfied with their responses. “I will not support it. I will do everything I can to oppose it. You need to go back and work with the neighbors.”

Councilor Paul Rodrigues said he shared Lombardi’s concerns about the impact to water quality.

“I don’t know if you aren’t aware of it, or you are avoiding it, or what,” said Rodrigues, claiming the water source was excluded from the presentation. Mclntyre answered the design would be reviewed at the local, state and federal levels.

“Our design criteria wouldn’t change. We are going to design the most appropriate substation for the area,” Mclntyre added. When asked if the plans would be reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Mclntyre said he was unsure.

Sylvia called it an “extremely valid concern.”

“It is a water supply. You are almost right on top of it, unless we are seeing something that isn’t there,” said Sylvia.

Councilor Theresa Santos asked if National Grid had a timeline to bury the poles underground. The company responded that was not within the project scope.

“Get rid of the damn poles,” she yelled, banging her fist. She later apologized, explaining she was “passionate” about the pole issue.

After more than an hour of discussion, Sylvia said he thought the “message had been sent loud and clear” to National Grid.

“I don’t think any of my colleagues are going to support this without you looking at this a little deeper. I don’t think it is right for it to happen. I wholeheartedly agree with Councilor Lombardi. We have to stand up for our residents.”

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