OCEAN CITY – Delmarva Power and Light (DP&L) received the Mayor and City Council’s approval to expand its substation in north Ocean City with fair warning not to exceed safe electromagnetic field (EMF) and noise levels.
On Monday evening, for the second time, the Mayor and City Council was presented with a conditional use request to expand the existing DP&L substation between 137th and 138th Streets in the neighborhood of Caine Woods.
Last August the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing regarding DP&L’s conditional use request. A number of the neighborhood’s residents were present to voice numerous concerns over the project. However, the commission forwarded a favorable recommendation to the council for approval.
DP&L Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith explained in order to enhance electric service reliability and maintain a stronger and more consistent flow of energy in the Ocean City area DP&L needs to install a Static Var Compensator (SVC) adjacent to its 138th Street substation.
A couple of weeks later, the council denied DP&L’s request because members felt the community’s concerns had not been fully addressed.
According to the Finding of Fact from the subsequent public hearing, held in early December, key concerns were addressed. Dr. William H. Bailey, highly qualified as an expert witness and thoroughly knowledgeable in the subject matter, testified the EMF values taken around the substation at peak loading were less than 10 milligauss (mG) whereas the acceptable level for the general public is 2,000 mG. The proposed addition of the SVC will not markedly affect existing magnetic field levels at residences because of design and location choices made by DP&L, according to Bailey.
Also at that time, attorney Joseph G. Harrison testified the property land values in the neighborhood have remained consistent, according to current assessments and transfers near the existing substation.
As done in the first public hearing, DP&L submitted an enhanced 15-foot decorative wall design to surround the substation with mature landscape and an irrigation system for maintenance of the landscape, versus the chain link fence and barb wire surrounding the current facility. DP&L also testified that new equipment would be high-efficiency with lower decibel ratings and will be low-profile in design to control sound inside the substation property.
One week after the hearing, in a 4-0 vote, the Planning Commission once again gave a favorable recommendation for the expansion of an existing electrical substation.
“Without a doubt, the neighboring properties have had the same concerns and they were raised,” Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Blaine Smith said this week. “I believe the Planning Commission concluded with both the evidence and testimony that was given, which was expert testimony, there was nothing to dispute what was heard and seen.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas felt that there was not much of a difference between the information provided at the different public hearings.
“It didn’t seem to please the people in the neighborhood the first time so I imagine it didn’t please the people in the neighborhood the second time either,” she said as she asked if it would be feasible to have EMF readings taken on a yearly basis.
Smith responded EMF and noise level readings can be set as a condition within the council granting a conditional use. He suggested that the readings be taken at a peak time to set a benchmark.
“As a councilman, every now and then you have to do something for the good of the people that may not be a popular for some other people,” Councilman Joe Mitrecic said as he made a motion to approve the conditional use request with the caveat that two annual EMF and noise readings be taken, once in July and once in January, to be reported back to the city.
“If in fact they do exceed what was determined by Dr. William H. Bailey to be acceptable per his testimony, that it remand to the council for immediate action,” Mitrecic said.
Mayor Rick Meehan added readings should be taken as soon as the new system at the substation is activated to set a benchmark as Smith suggested and to report those levels to all adjacent properties within 300 feet of the substation within 60 days. Mitrecic amended his motion to do so. The council voted 6-0, with Councilman Dennis Dare absent, to approve the motion.
During citizen comments at the conclusion of the meeting, 139th Street resident Richard Hansen, who had expressed his concerns at both public hearings, commended the council in the decision to move forward with biannual readings.
“However, I think the council missed the point a little bit,” he said. “The people really would like to have someone check on DP&L.”
The council assured Hansen there would be an independent credited agency that would conduct the biannual EMF and noise level readings, not an employee of DP&L.
Donna Moulton, who lives on 138th Street, also restated her concerns from the prior public hearings over the noise levels the expansion will add to the substation.
The mayor pointed out Ocean City’s noise ordinance stays in place regardless of the conditional use, and that decibel readings can be taken at any time by the city upon complaint and citations will be written upon violation.
“The intent of the motion, again, with the biannual reading is in the event there is an overage of either EMF or the decibel readings, it would come back to the council,” City Manager David Recor said. “The idea of a conditional use is you impose conditions to mitigate the impact, so if the decibel was over the threshold the council can impose an additional condition to negate the impact.”
Council President Lloyd Martin reminded the public that the council made the decision to allow DP&L to move forward with the expansion of the substation to benefit the community, not work against them.
“It is all about taking care of the neighborhoods,” he said. “I work hard for my neighborhood and I think in doing this … we are trying to do our due diligence to do it right and protect you as well, so hopefully it doesn’t come back here.”