Hunt Valley residents fight BGE transformer

October 06, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County community group faced off against Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. at hearings this week over the need for a 20,000-square-foot transformer BGE wants to erect in the Falls Road corridor in the community of Hunt Valley.

The county Board of Appeals courthouse hearing room was filled to capacity Tuesday with members from Friends of the Ridge, a community group representing about 400 households that formed to oppose BGE's interest in building an enlarged electrical substation at the Ivy Hill Substation.

There were also BGE staff members and attorneys for both sides; another large crowd was expected at the continuation of the hearings today.

If approved, the building of the expanded substation would begin next June. The substation would supplement power supplied by the small one already there and serve the area bounded roughly by Butler, Falls and Mays Chapel roads and Greenspring Avenue. It will occupy space about 17 times larger than the one there, and is needed to better serve a growing community, BGE said.

"Our entire neighborhood was against this," said Jolie McShane of the 12900 block of Gent Road. She is president of a community group representing 65 households just north of the 3-acre lot where the enlarged substation would go.

She and other residents, sporting green "Save the Ridge" buttons in the hearing room, fear that electromagnetic fields will increase, a slated run-off pond will endanger children, and property values will decline when 0.7 of an acre of trees is destroyed.

"Quite simply, it doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood," said Ms. McShane. Neighbors say there is a parcel of land about a quarter mile away in a nonresidential area that would make a more suitable spot.

But the substation -- which will be almost as large as a Giant supermarket -- cannot be placed that far away, said BGE spokeswoman Nancy Hooper Caplan.

The electricity source has to be close to the homes that it serves to be effective, she said. The current substation is inadequate; built in 1957, it ran out of power for nine hours during the cold weather in January, she said.

BGE electrical engineer Monica McGrady, who specializes in the engineering of substations, testified Tuesday that the current substation cannot be expanded because there is not enough land to add the necessary facilities. And she said the expanded substation would not be an eyesore: surrounded by an 8-foot fence and 160 evergreen trees, the area would look virtually the same, she said.

Ms. McShane disagreed. Erecting the substation, she said, would strip the area of its natural landscape. "They're going to be looking at this for breakfast," she said.

Friends of the Ridge member Carol Rytter, who lives across the street from the site on Joel Court, said her 5-year-old son and other children play in the wooded area that is frequented by deer and squirrels. "I am concerned that one of the children may very well drown, get injured or electrocuted," she said.

She also said that construction associated with burying the power lines will disrupt traffic, especially at Joel Court and Ridge Road where there is a preschool.

But Mrs. Caplan of BGE countered: "We are burying the lines at the request of the community." She said the utility has tried without success to converse with and accommodate Friends of the Ridge.

Mrs. Rytter also said she fears possible dangers of EMFs, which some studies show can cause health problems. "Until it's conclusive, these things need to be further away from people, not closer," she said.

Electromagnetic fields have been linked with childhood leukemia, Alzheimer's disease, brain tumors, miscarriages and breast cancer, said Cathy Bergman, president of the National Electromagnetic Radiation Alliance in New York. Ms. Bergman said some studies show a correlation but others do not.

Sandra Shaw Patty, manager of transmission programs with the Power Plant Research Program, part of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the EMFs could be lessened at the new site: "It would be my guess that by changing to newer transformers and using new distribution lines, they could in fact reduce the [EMFs] associated with the station."

If the hearings have to be continued beyond today, they would resume in January. When testimony is complete, the three-member appeals board then will decide whether to support the county Zoning Commissioner's June decision to grant BGE a variance allowing the power company to go forward with the expansion.

The board's ruling, which could take as long as 30 to 45 days, can be appealed to Circuit Court.

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