Engineers at Empire District Electric Co. on Tuesday began looking at changes that could be made to a plan to build a substation next to the Hidden Hills subdivision.
The plan has drawn objections from residents.
An outpouring of opposition by residents of Hidden Hills, The Highlands and Wildwood caused the Joplin Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday to deny a recommendation for a special-use permit for the project. The substation site is at the edge of Hidden Hills, but the company has been using the only road that accesses the three subdivisions, leading to traffic and noise complaints by some in the other neighborhoods.
As a result of the neighbors’ complaints, commissioners Kent Eastman, Lee Smith, Gary Duncan and Don Landrith voted Monday to deny the permit, while Bob Harrington and Chairman Bruce Anderson voted against denial. The board’s decisions are advisory, with the final say up to the City Council.
Jeff Brown, manager of substation engineering for Empire, told the commission that the electric company needs to build the substation to supply the new Mercy Hospital as well as other potential growth in southwest Joplin.
He said the relocation of the hospital to 50th Street and Hearnes Boulevard will create a need for more electricity transmission in the area because the demand would exceed the capacity of the existing substation.
Empire bought five acres of land within 185 feet of the back corner of the Hidden Hills subdivision. The land is along a large transmission line that already exists, which would allow the installation of a substation without having to extend the transmission line, Brown said.
Residents said the company cut down three acres of trees without regard for the peace and quiet of the area or the value of their homes. The company did not notify the residents that such a project was to be undertaken.
Resident Rodney Lewis, 2013 Highlander Drive, said he shared Joplin’s vision for tornado recovery such as providing for the reconstruction of the hospital and building back the tax base. He estimated that the substation could mean $3 million in decreased property values in the area, which could create tax losses for the city.
He recommended that the company move the site of the planned substation by 1,000 to 2,000 feet to shield it from the neighbors’ houses.
Brown, asked if the substation would be bermed or shielded by landscaping, said it would not be. He said Empire does not do that because thieves will use the cover to strip the stations of copper, and visibility helps cut down on those thefts.
On Tuesday, the utility’s director of corporate communications, Amy Bass, said that “since we heard the concerns of the residents, the engineers are taking a second look at this and seeing what can be done to alleviate those concerns. We will take another look at what might be done to block the view and what alternatives we might have as far as security precautions as well.”
Resident Cecilia Marshall as well as Realtor Doris Carlin, who has sold lots and homes in the neighborhoods, asked if the company could build an access road to the site. The three neighborhoods have one road for entrance and exit. Residents said the heavy traffic is a nuisance and a danger to children.
Brown said an easement was being obtained so that an access road could be put in from River Road to the site.
Resident Ree Wells-Lewis said there is a view of the site at the end of her street, and she asked why it could not have been put farther out of sight.
The reason, Empire officials say, is because the building site needs to be flat, and that area of Joplin has a lot of hills.
Residents also complained about the utility clear-cutting the site.
“It’s very upsetting to me that they started the clearing before they have a permit” for the construction, said resident Janet Kervian.
“There is an existing transmission line that runs north and south, so there is already a very large area that is cleared and maintained for the reliable operation of the line,” Empire spokesman Julie Maus said Tuesday. “We had received a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to do that clearing and had been in touch with the city in regard to that as well, and they told us it was OK if we went ahead with the clearing.”
City Planner Troy Bolander said there is no restriction on cutting trees, but that actual construction could not start without the special-use permit.
“We’re well aware that a special-use permit was needed and well aware of the procedure to get one,” Bass said. “We just needed to do some surveying, so the clearing was necessary as a preliminary step.”
Wells-Lewis said an Empire representative called to talk to her about possible changes to the plan.
“I appreciate them being willing to discuss it,” she said, but she would like Empire to hold a group meeting with residents so that everyone can hear the discussions.
THE HIDDEN HILLS AREA is currently served by a substation located south of Interstate 44. The proposed new substation would be similar in configuration to an existing one at 24th Street and Connecticut Avenue that serves about 3,800 customers, according to Amy Bass, Empire District spokeswoman.