The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 13, 2012

Residents say Empire open house informative, but concerns persist

JOPLIN, Mo. — A revised plan for a controversial electric substation in south Joplin would move it slightly, and add a solid fence and low lighting to try to obscure it from neighbors’ view.

Some residents of Hidden Hills said that the open house held Thursday by Empire District Electric Co. was informative but left them with lingering concerns.

Opposition to the request for a special-use permit to install the substation at the end of Highlander Drive in the Hidden Hills subdivision caused the Joplin Planning and Zoning Commission last month to recommend that the City Council deny the permit. The council, on the request of Empire, tabled a decision until utility representatives could talk to opponents.

Empire held the open house at South Middle School to try to address those concerns and give residents a chance to ask questions.

Empire officials said the substation is necessary to serve the future Mercy Hospital Joplin being constructed nearby and the growth expected to move south as a result. Empire did not put the substation on land it already owns, on Connecticut Avenue next to Interstate 44, because it would be in the same path of an eastern- or northeastern-moving tornado as the new hospital and the other lines that would feed electricity to the hospital area.

Tina Gaines, director of engineering and line services at Empire, said the company’s revised plan for the site moves the substation 55 feet north. That adjustment makes the location “completely north of the Hidden Hills subdivision,” she said.

Lighting was changed for glare reduction, and the lights would be lower in intensity with elimination of side lighting. There are high intensity lights, but those would only be used when workers are there to make an emergency repair, Gaines said.

A solid concrete aggregate wall fence would be installed on the side of the site that adjoins the neighborhood. The other sides adjoin a rural ridge where there is no development.

Noise would be minimal, Empire officials said, and the solid fence would further reduce that.

A temporary easement has been obtained for a construction road so that heavy equipment does not damage the subdivision’s single access road. That road serves two other neighborhoods, Wildwood and The Highlands, and has drawn some opposition from those residents. After construction, Empire workers would go to the substation about twice a month for maintenance work and use a typical Empire service truck, Gaines said.

Doug Doll, president of Arvest Bank, said the bank will donate two residential lots the bank owns in the development immediately next to the substation entrance that are still wooded and would provide a natural buffer. The proposed substation has not frozen lot sales in the developing Hidden Hills neighborhood, he said. Doris Carlin, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty, said three lots have been contracted for sale since the substation was proposed.

Resident Rodney Lewis said he has mixed feelings about the project.

He would have liked it better if the utility had moved the substation farther west rather than north. His wife, Ree Wells-Lewis, said the couple have four children and are concerned about health effects of living within 1,000 feet of the substation.

Additionally, “we are all concerned about property values killing the neighborhood,” Lewis said. Empire officials showed residents photographs of a similar neighborhood in Springfield where a substation did not affect property sales or values.

“We cannot find any correlation on property sales or effect on values, or any evidence it prevents people from building next to a substation,” Gaines said.

Residents Janet Kervian and Jean Mauldin said the open house was informative, but they still have many questions.

“I was more than happy to come and see what they had to offer us, but I’ve made no conclusions on the issue,” said Kervian.

“We appreciate that Empire took the time to share with us their plans, but there are still many questions that were not answered,” Mauldin said.

Resident Kim Harris said she wants to further study information Empire has posted on its website.

“My worry was the property values,” Harris said. She built a home in the area only four years ago.

The issue will be rescheduled on the City Council agenda for a public hearing.

Details

Information and illustrations of the site can be viewed at www.empiredistrict.com under “links of interest.”

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