Council Directs Utility Expansion Back To Planners

OCEAN CITY – Delmarva Power and Light (DP&L) has been sent back to the drawing board by the Mayor and City Council to properly address the community’s concerns before approving an expansion of the existing substation in north Ocean City.

Two weeks ago, the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing regarding a conditional use request for the expansion of the existing DP&L substation, located on Sinepuxent and Derrickson avenues between 137th and 138th streets in the community of Caine Woods.

Following a lengthy hearing, the commission voted 4-0, members Tom Singman, Chris Shanahan, and Joel Brous absent, to send a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to approve DPL’s request.

According to the Finding of Facts from the hearing, in 1974 the original electric substation was established by conditional use and put into operation to provide electric service to the northern sector of Ocean City, and the purpose of this request is to provide new equipment and to improve electric transmission reliability for the northern portion of Ocean City and lower Sussex County, Del.

In order to do so, DPL will have to install a Static Var Compensator (SVC) that is necessary to maintain electric stability by eliminating voltage fluctuations during times of high demand or system disturbances, and maintain a stronger, sustainable and more consistent flow of energy to the area.

City Engineer Terry McGean concurred that this area is susceptible to various problems associated with the electric transmission system, such as voltage fluctuations as experienced in 1999 with a series of rolling brownouts and blackouts caused by the increasing higher demand loads which require improvements to the transmission system. He stated that voltage swings have been an issue in Ocean City and have affected equipment at both the convention center and within the wastewater plant.

The proposal is to provide a 15-foot solid decorative wall and gates setback 10 feet from all lot lines that will provide certain functional benefits, such as visual, sound reduction, security and environmental. All lighting will be directed to the interior in accordance with the light ordinance.

The control house building height and the SVC equipment has been arranged to minimize its impact on adjacent residential property. The design of the equipment is to keep it as close to the ground as possible while still maintaining safety and reliability clearance criteria, according to DP&L.

During the hearing, several Caine Woods residents voiced a number of concerns over the expansion, mostly over public safety and the effect of Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF). Dr. William Bailey testified that EMF measurements will be maintained within the required standards recommended by the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety.

Councilwoman Mary Knight reported this week she had attended a meeting between DPL and the community on Feb. 11 and found three major concerns of the neighborhood — public safety and the additional EMF exposure, noise and the impact on residential property values.

“As I concentrated on these issues, I read the testimony … from the public hearing and I have concluded from what I have read and what I understand that they were really not addressed to the satisfaction of the neighborhood or to my satisfaction,” Knight said.

Knight made a motion to not accept the Finding of Facts and deny the utility’s request for a conditional use. According to City Code, if the conditional use request is denied, DP&L would not be able to return for another year to make another request.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed and felt a year would give DP&L the opportunity to address all concerns. She pointed out that when DP&L first started the project in Ocean City it also proposed building a new substation on 100th Street but found an expansion to be less expensive and disruptive.

“Why can’t we get it more into a commercial area? … I think that would solve a lot of problems,” Pillas said.

Council Secretary Lloyd Martin, who has lived in Caine Woods since 1985, said he understands the concerns of the neighborhood but the expansion is needed in Ocean City.

“I do have the problems with the electricity not being constant in my store and my house,” he said. “It is something that needs to be done so I think we need to work together and make it work … I do think it needs to go back to Planning and Zoning. They need to look at it real hard and address all the issues of the neighborhood.”

Martin said through his research he has found EMF exposure from power lines to be more concerning than the electric substation and suggested undergrounding the utilities to reduce the EMF level. He described the condition of the current substation as “disgusting looking” and in need of an upgrade.

Councilman Doug Cymek has contacted EMS (Electromagnetic Shielding) Services and has found a number of options to protect the surrounding community from the substation.

“There are a lot of things that could be done,” Cymek said. “We have to remember that probably 99 percent or better of Ocean City is going to benefit from this, the SVC that you are going to put in, and we need to be concerned about the public safety and make sure that we are all comfortable before we move forward. I think getting it together and sending it back for additional testimony, whatever the power company can do to raise the comfort level, I think that is where we need to go with this.”

The council voted 5-2, Knight and Pillas opposed, to not deny the finding of facts and DP&L’s request for a conditional use.

Councilman Joe Hall then made a motion to defer the request back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to address the concerns expressed by the council including alternative locations, enhanced protections for the community and enhanced landscaping and aesthetic values. The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.