Thursday, November 9, 2006
Supervisors vote 3-2 to allow substation
By SUE WATSON
In a split (3-2) vote Monday, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors approved the location of an electric power substation on Highway 311 in the Mt. Pleasant community.
Supervisors Eddie Dixon and Keith Taylor voted to deny the Holly Springs Utility Department (HSUD) plan to locate a substation on 12 acres adjacent to several subdivisions near Melissa Lane.
The Marshall County Planning Commission voted 3-2 several weeks ago to allow HSUD to place a substation on the acreage it purchased in the summer.
About 10 residents of Melissa Lane voiced their opposition to the site but said they want the substation in the area, which is undergoing rapid residential growth.
Melissa Lane residents argued before supervisors that the substation would decrease property values and mar the view. Residents sunk their savings into their properties to enjoy the beauty of the rolling hills, they said.
In an appeal to supervisors, Forrest Wilson asked the board to look at the matter from the homeowners’ viewpoint.
He said HSUD did not come before the planning commission to request a special exception to build the substation in a timely fashion, and the area has plenty of undeveloped land it could buy.
The timetable for construction of the substation leaves adequate time to find another spot, he said.
Wilson said existing homeowners are an important source of the county’s tax base, which will be increasing as more homes are built in the area.
Questioning who is directing the growth areas in the northwestern portion of the county, Wilson said, “We need planning. We don’t need big business telling us.”
Wilson also argued that the planning commission should not allow HSUD to use the acreage for any other utility needs such as a water tower, materials storage area or for parking utility vehicles.
“We are in no shape or fashion against growth,” Wilson said. “I moved out here by choice. We need (service) but I think the location should be changed.”
Stephen Farris said he will no longer be able to sit on his front porch and look at “a beautiful countryside” if the substation is built there.
“I bought my home because of the view,” he said. “A substation is going to kill the esthetics of the neighborhood. If I had known there was going to be a substation, I’ll assure you, we would have built somewhere else.”
Farris said HSUD’s assurances the substation would be buffered with landscaping is not enough.
“The bottom line is we don’t want it in that neighborhood. We do want a substation. We need that, but it doesn’t have to be in that location. What are the chances of looking for a perfect location and it being available?”
Farris asked the board to send the matter back to the planning commission with orders to look for another location.
One Melissa Lane resident told supervisors she had a contract to sell her home, but after the substation became known, her buyer backed out. She reduced the price on her house but has had no “bites on her land” since the substation came up, she said.
Don Hollingsworth, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry and HSUD general manager John Collins defended the utility’s need to go forward with the current plan, saying the HSUD has no plans for other uses of the land at present.
HSUD hired consulting engineers to study the best location for a substation, Hollingsworth said. The utility tried to buy another property, but it was not for sale, he said.
Consultants found the site ideal, in the center of the load (demand for power), he said. Consultants suggested suitable land would be one-quarter mile on either side of TVA’s central line in the area.
Supervisor Willie Flemon said power supply is critical to the area with outages a problem already.
No more than 400 new residences could be added to the system without another substation, Hollingsworth said.
DeBerry reacted to a remark by one resident that the City of Holly Springs is promoting itself as big business.
“We had an independent survey done based on problems and power concerns in that area,” he said. “Consultants recommended to build a substation. We have increased growth in the area and existing customers.”
HSUD did not increase the demand for electricity in the area, DeBerry said, nor was it looking for a “cash cow.”
“We are responsible to provide power,” he said.
DeBerry said residents were trying to make it appear that HSUD was trying to exploit the area.
“We’re trying to serve our customers,” he said.
DeBerry said to not plan for growth of power demand and the substation would leave himself, the utility director and Hollingsworth open to criticism.
“Keep in mind we are in time constraints,” he said.
Supervisor Dixon said the board of supervisors would be wrong to deny citizens due process (their appeal) and to voice their opposition.
DeBerry said HSUD did not try to subvert the process of special exception by going before the planning commission late as some had implied.
“We agreed to go before the planning commission,” he said. “We claimed ignorance. We can’t rewind the process.”
Jack Pitt asked for HSUD to look for another site, citing property value concerns.
DeBerry said he sympathized with the issues of residents, adding his residence is just a few streets away from the county shop.
“If we are going to live in society, we have to accept something less than utopia,” he said.
But he respects the rights of citizens to protest, he said.
“If another substation site were found, would you consider it?” Dixon asked.
DeBerry said equipment in place has a life expectancy and HSUD has set target dates in order to meet its obligations to its customers.
The substation would be built and ready in summer of 2008 and it is just a month until 2007, he said.
“You are talking about restructuring the process and that’s delaying the environmental process (study) date,” DeBerry said. “We’ve looked at other property.”
“We’ve already been through zoning and now we are going through this process all over again,” said Supervisor Willie Flemon.
DeBerry said the procedure was to guarantee due process to the community.
“The issue is can we delay this process and what is the cost of delay?” he said. “We’re doing everything humanly possible to make this as palatable as we can.”
Supervisor Keith Taylor said he has to try to protect his constituents.
“I know we need this up there,” he said. “I wish we had backed up. I think we missed the whole point when we didn’t put people first.”
Taylor said supervisors have to make decisions without knowing if the decisions are the right ones or not.
“You have to sell it to the people first,” he said.
DeBerry replied that the people have some valid arguments.
“But the overriding issue is what the county needs is infrastructure,” he said. “The city has tried to lay infrastructure ahead of development.”
Dixon said he speaks for what’s best for the north end of the county.
“We are trying to attract growth, not to deter growth, and putting a substation in the mouth of a subdivision would deter people who would move in,” he said. “I think we owe it to the citizens to find a place, a land swap, to offset your losses so you won’t lose.”
DeBerry said HSUD is obligated to locate a substation in the center of the load so as to avoid line losses. Since HSUD is billed for line loss (lost electricity) the utility would have to pass that cost on to customers.
“We’re talking about more customers than just one street,” he said.
“I’m trying to serve all citizens in the area and to put it somewhere where it is least intrusive,” said Dixon. “If we send it back to zoning you could get with the citizens and work it out at zoning.”
Flemon said there is no reason in arguing or sending it back to zoning. He urged for a vote on the matter.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said he would oppose the location of the substation if he were one of the residents of Melissa Lane, but as a supervisor he had to look at the need for power in the area.
“We need to decide,” said Flemon.
“I agree,” said Supervisor George Zinn.
Dixon said he favored the site be restudied.
“I think we need to involve citizens,” he said. “What’s to keep them from going back on their word about the water tower?”
With that, Dixon made a motion to deny the special exception for the site permit and Taylor seconded. The motion failed by a vote of 2-3 to deny.
Flemon then offered a motion to uphold the zoning board’s decision to approve the site. Bennett seconded. The motion passed 3-2, with Zinn casting the deciding vote.
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