Neighbors oppose $20 million substation

Realizing that they face an uphill battle, some Green's Farms residents are trying to stop the planned construction of a $20 million electrical substation on New Creek Road, which they say could be unsafe and unwarranted.

"What are Green's Farms residents getting out of this? We already have to deal with and noise and the pollution from [Interstate] 95 and the railroad," said James Burke, who lives on the nearby Turkey Hill Road South. "Now we're going to have to deal with the [electromagnetic] pollution as well. Our taxes aren't going to be any lower. We're not going to be getting any benefits, but we'll be bearing all the costs."

The town has no say in whether the substation, proposed by Northeast Utilities Service Company on behalf of Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), will be approved. Rather, the authority rests with the Connecticut Siting Council, which will approve or reject the project possibly by early May.

"We hope that they see the light and recognize that

residents don't want it there," Burke said. Along with some neighbors, he helped create an online petition (www.petitiononline.com/NewCreek/petition.html) and they've all been trying to spread the word about the project, which they feel has been pushed along too quickly.

In late March, Jennifer Boyd was taking a walk when she saw a public notice about the substation placed at 6 New Creek Road, a short distance from the Green's Farms Metro-North station.

"I was shocked that I hadn't heard anything about it and I assumed that this meant it was at the beginning stages of the investigation," Boyd said. "I was doubly shocked to learn later this was the final step in the approval process."

A few days later, on March 31, two public hearings took place. At the end of the hearing, attendees were told that the council will take information for the next 30 days and then render a decision. With a decision being rendered soon, they've had to act fast.

In early 2009, the town's Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission discussed the project, but their roles were limited to an advisory capacity.

There are already four substations throughout Westport, which includes a temporary one on state land close to Clayton Street and the Metro-North tracks. The temporary substation would be removed once the proposed "Sherwood" substation on New Creek Road is put in place, which is expected to be completed in January 2012, pending approval. The new substation would be placed on a wooded hill, and the nearest home is approximately 400 feet away.

"The substation will allow us to continue meeting the growing demand for electricity in Westport in a safe, reliable way," said Frank Poirot, spokesperson for CL&P. "The driver behind this is that residential use of electricity is climbing."

One of the main reasons for growing consumption, he said, is the growing size of Westport homes. Also, homes are now using more electronic devices, such as flat screen TVs, which add to that high rate of consumption.He said there have been some summers where the use of air conditioners has tested the limits of the electricity the company can provide. A temporary substation on a flatbed truck was brought in for such situations.

The neighbors question the need for more electricity in town as people make the environmentally conscious switch to solar power, and they think that the substation might not be needed if more people continue to do so.

"We have a number of residents that have reduced the public need for electricity by switching to solar power," said Burke. "We understand that Greens Farms Academy has plans to move to solar power. We understand that there are also plans for Staples High School to switch to solar power."

Poirot said that even with more people using solar power and trying to reduce energy, the energy consumption still outpaces conservation.

Health Concerns

While the neighbors question the need for the substation, they are also concerned with health and safety. They've been learning all they can about potential effects of electromagnetic fields that emanate from such substations. With Greens Farms Academy several hundred feet away and an intertidal marsh located nearby, concerned neighbors have begun researching the subject to determine what could happen to the environment and people.

"There is a lot of controversy about the health impact of electromagnetic fields, and you can find as many studies decrying their use ... as there are studies trying to rebut that," Boyd said. "What you won't find is studies that say there is no basic health impact. That doesn't exist. It's really quibbling over how great a health impact it is."

Boyd said that in Europe, concerns over electromagnetic field are taken more seriously.

"We are really, really behind in our understanding of health impacts of electromagnetic field," she said. "We're using this out-moded thinking."

The neighbors reached out to Blake Levitt, a science reporter who worked for The New York Times and has written books and articles about electromagnetic fields. Levitt reportedly told them that cell towers could exacerbate electromagnetic fields in an area. There's a cell tower a few hundred feet away from the nearby post office.

In regards to electromagnetic fields, Poirot said CL&P is following all the siting council regulations and that he hasn't heard of cell phone towers increasing the amount of electromagnetic fields from a substation.

"We're asked by the siting council and by cell phone providers to mount the towers on our transmission structures," Poirot said. "It's a way of making efficient use of a tower."