Property owners near the site of a proposed new Smithville Electric System substation came before the City Planning Commission Monday evening to express concerns about the project.
The facility is to be located on just over five acres at 1233 South College Street.
While SES would continue to share the existing substation on West Main Street with TVA and Caney Fork Electric Cooperative, the new one would be solely for the use of Smithville Electric System in order to provide a secondary source of power especially in times of emergencies and to ensure continued reliability for current and future demands.
Joe Rice, one of the concerned property owners, questioned whether this site, in a residential neighborhood, is a suitable location for a substation. "Substations are permitted upon review as I read the ordinance. The review would be by the zoning board. The question I think in this case is not whether it can be done but whether it should be done. This piece of property is located immediately between two existing homes and there are a lot of other homes in the area. There are a lot of reasons not to do it. Safety being a primary, more personal concern. That's a reason for the backup station. They explode occasionally," he said.
According to Rice, SES had an opportunity to possibly acquire property in an industrial zone for the substation. "I'm sure there is a need for a station. The electric board, in their last meeting, was asked why they chose this location. We were told that it was for sale and it was cheap as opposed to an industrial location. They had found an industrial location apparently for half a million dollars. They told us they had plenty of money so that is not the issue. They chose this piece of property at the expense of the property owners in this residential area to save money for the power company. To me that doesn't seem right," said Rice.
Gordon Murphy, another property owner in the area, said he has environmental concerns particularly with a substation being located near wetlands. "I made a call to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). I haven't heard back but I did see a consultant out there looking at the property. You are not supposed to build substations or power plants near wetlands or on wetlands. That is something that is highly discouraged. You are not supposed to do that because there is all kinds of water runoff. All kinds of chemical pollution that goes into the wetlands. Its not a good idea. It may also be an Army Corps of Engineers (issue). I haven't gotten through to that process. It may also be against several other agencies as well. I haven't gotten to the bottom of that. Basically wetlands is a bad idea. End of story. Chemical pollution. Bad idea. It's not just the fact that it's where we live. We'll be hearing in excess of 60db (decibel) which is equivalent to a freight train at 50 feet. Those kinds of issues need to be known," said Murphy.
Staff Planner Tommy Lee said the city's zoning ordinance allows substations as a permitted use without review in a residential zone. "I analyzed the request. I looked at the zoning ordinance and recommended it to be an approved and permitted use as it clearly states in the zoning ordinance. There are certain non-residential uses that are strictly permitted uses. They don't have to have a review. Those uses are auditoriums, arenas, exhibit halls, art galleries, parks, substations, etc. That's why I made the recommendation. It would be like if somebody didn't like the fact that their neighbor was building a single family home in an R-1 district. Can they appeal that to the Board of Zoning Appeals? I don't think they can. I think a permitted use is a permitted use. But you have a right to challenge. If not at the Board of Zoning Appeals, then in the appellate courts," said Lee.
Planning Commission member Norris Colvert recommended that the city withhold approval of the project until the building codes inspector conducts a proper review of the proposed site plan. If the inspector signs off on the plan, Colvert said the concerned landowners may then file an appeal with the city's board of zoning appeals. "Our course of action is that our building inspector is going to be instructed to review the site plan to see if it meets all the setbacks and all the other criteria and that he makes some kind of decision then these folks have a right to appeal it. We have concerned citizens here that need to be respected and we need to do whatever we can do to help them get their point across. We don't have anybody from Smithville Electric sitting here telling us what they are wanting to do. Let's make sure if it is going to be done that it's going to be done properly," said Colvert
In an interview with WJLE last August, Richie Knowles, Interim Manager of Smithville Electric System said TVA has already approved plans for the new substation, which will be approximately 105 feet x 192 feet in size. "TVA has approved the site. We got that approval before we purchased the property. We now have to get the substation designed, engineered, and do the grade work. Of course, we'll have to order all the materials and start assembling it. We hope to have it up and operational by late 2016 or early 2017," said Knowles.
According to Knowles, a second substation would provide the city an alternate power source. "This way we will be able to supply power to the entire city from either substation. We can do maintenance work on the West Main Street substation without shutting off the power to the entire city. Initially, we will transfer part of the supplied load from the West Main substation to the new one, " said Knowles.
A secondary substation could also serve as a means of new industrial recruitment. " It will provide us a secondary feed for industries that might be looking at possibly coming to Smithville. That is usually their first question " do you have a dual feed"? At the moment we have to say no but we're working on that so in the future when they call we'll be able to say "yes we do". Hopefully that will help attract new industry and help us keep the industry we have," said Knowles.
According to Knowles, this location is ideal because it is directly beneath an existing transmission line route. Efforts will be made to keep it hidden from public view as much as possible. "It's going to be just one transformer. A small compact substation. It will set back off the road. Hopefully, it won't be unsightly to the neighborhood. We'll make it as clean as possible with fencing and landscaping. We'll try to make it as nice to the neighborhood as we possibly can," said Knowles.
The new facility is to be called the John Robert Nixon substation, named in tribute to the man who has served as a member and Chairman of the Board of Smithville Electric since the utility was established 46 years ago.