By Debby Woodin
An open house has been scheduled by Empire District Electric Co. to answer questions that residents have about a substation location that met with neighborhood opposition at a recent zoning hearing.
In a letter to residents, the company’s vice president of commercial operations invites residents of Hidden Hills to attend an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at South Middle School. The substation plan also drew opposition from neighboring subdivisions The Highlands and Wildwood Acres.
Martin Penning writes that an application by Empire for a special-use permit for the substation is on the Tuesday agenda of the Joplin City Council, but that the utility company will ask that it be tabled until company representatives can meet with neighbors.
Empire’s request for the permit hit a roadblock Aug. 13 when opposition surfaced before the Joplin Planning and Zoning Commission. As a result of the outcry, the commission voted to recommend that the council deny the permit.
Residents of Highlander Avenue in Hidden Hills live nearest to the substation site. They told the zoning commission that Empire moved into the rural neighborhood with heavy equipment and cleared trees from about three acres without any notification or explanation to any of them.
Ree Wells-Lewis expressed concerns about the scenic loss to the neighborhood when property next to hers is converted from woods to a power substation. She questioned the safety of living that close to an electrical substation.
Residents of The Highlands and Wildwood Acres expressed concerns about the noise of heavy equipment coming and going, as well as the wear and tear on their road. One main road serves all three subdivisions. To allay concerns about use of the neighborhood road, the company intends to build an access road from River Road to the south.
Jeff Brown, manager of substation engineering for Empire, told the zoning board that the substation is needed to boost and back up the power supply to the area. The power that will be required in the future in the area will exceed the capacity of the existing substation in the 2500 block of Connecticut Avenue, he said.
Penning’s letter to the residents reads: “As our city continues to recover from the impacts of the May 22 tornado and experiences continued growth in the southern part of Joplin, including the addition of the new Mercy Hospital, the need to construct an additional substation to ensure a reliable supply of electric energy now exists.”
The site is convenient because it is located under a large transmission line, which will reduce costs for building the substation because the line will not have to be extended, Empire said.
Neighbors asked why Empire did not talk to them first, before doing any clearing. Empire officials said the clearing work was done to allow for a survey of the property.
Wells-Lewis and another Highlander Avenue resident, Janet Kervian, said they had not received Empire’s letter on Tuesday. It is dated Monday.
“A couple of us heard it was in the planning,” Wells-Lewis said, noting that the open house is scheduled well after the Sept. 4 council meeting. “We did hear they were going to ask to table it. The vote may be tabled, but it may be necessary to be there to have an opportunity to talk to the City Council members about it.”
She said she believes Empire will show changes to the substation’s design and construction that the company hopes will make it more acceptable to the neighbors. “But I have not gotten any wind they are going to move it to another location,” which is her preference, Wells-Lewis said.
Kervian said an orange safety fence has been put up in the area, but no other work has been done since the zoning meeting.
“I certainly think a group meeting would be beneficial, if anything,” she said. “We’ve been waiting to hear from Empire about some kind of group hearing and information. I’ve heard of some concessions they are willing to make, by hearsay.” She said she has declined to have any one-on-one discussion with an Empire representative because she believes “we should speak as a group, not on an individual basis. I would listen to what they have to say, but I felt the best way is to have a group meeting.”
It would have been better if Empire had held the open house before it started the work, Kervian said. “But it’s said and done now,” she said. “We’ll go from there and see what they have to say about it.”
THE PROPOSED SUBSTATION would be like one that has been enlarged at 26th Street and Moffet Avenue.