New substation draws fire from angry residents

Mary Perham
The new substation being built on Fairview Drive is the subject of various questions concerning its placement and loudness.

Questions are surfacing about the $7.1 million Bath Electric Gas and Water Systems substation now under construction on the residential Fairview Drive in the village of Bath.

A number of residents on Fairview recently attended a village board meeting, to complain about the size of the project, possible noise and lighting.

But many of those issues apparently could have been addressed when the project was first discussed more than four years ago.

According to information received under the Freedom of Information Law, a report by the BEGWS Commission indicated in March 2007 the project would:

•Be located over a primary, principal or sole source aquifer.

•Be near a building, site, or district listed on the state or national registers of historic places.

•Be located in a 100-year flood plain.

•Would produce operating noises exceeding local ambient (normal) noises.

•Would impact aesthetic resources.

Under state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations a project needs to undergo an environmental impact study if it will significantly affect the target area. The study includes public hearings and a public comment period, during which people may raise objections to the project.

The project’s sponsor must then show how it will reduce the negative impact of the project before it goes forward.

But instead, in March 2007, the Utilities Commission approved a statement saying the substation would not affect the Fairview area, and a state Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) would not be needed.

The 2007 SEQR decision was signed by BEGWS Director Matt Benesh, who recently retired. Benesh also was the director of the commission, which had oversight of the village-owned utility.

Village trustees dissolved that commission in May 2008 and took on oversight of the utility for several years. A new commission was restored earlier this week.

Fairview resident Steve Bates said he is not blaming the current village board for the problems people in the area of the substation are facing. But the project definitely has a negative impact on the neighborhood, he said.

“The size of the thing itself is an impact,” Bates said. “This board had no idea of the size of what they were doing. But all you have to do is drive by and you’ll see the environmental impact.”

A village trustee and BEGWS liaison since May, Bill von Hagn said he was told the original SEQR statement was based on the project engineer’s recommendation.

“I don’t know the process that was taken,” von Hagn said. “I think it’s unfair to make a comment or point a finger or make an accusation at this point.