The Pineville City Council narrowly approves the controversial substation near the NC-SC line

By | March 26, 2024

During a special meeting that lasted less than five minutes, the Pineville City Council narrowly approved a controversial plan for a new electric substation near a large subdivision Monday evening.

The council voted 3-2 in favor of a city plan to purchase approximately an acre at the intersection of Miller Road and Greenway Drive for the substation, and also authorized city staff to negotiate the land in question and, if necessary, to condemn. The property is owned by the family that runs Miller’s Flea Market on the land.

City leaders have said the substation is critical to meeting utility demands in the growing Charlotte community and that the site in question was the most viable option among several locations considered.

But residents of the nearby McCollough neighborhood have raised concerns since they first heard of Pineville’s plan in December. They said they believe it could lower the value of their properties and negatively impact health, safety and local businesses. At a public meeting in January, some residents questioned why city leadership had not taken future infrastructure needs more into account when making decisions on development agreements.

Mayor Pro Tem Ed Samaha and Council Member Danielle Moore voted against the measures on Monday, and Council Members Amelia Stinson-Wesley and Chris McDonough voted in favor.

Mayor David Phillips therefore had to cast two decisive ‘yes’ votes.

“It was just, in my opinion, the smartest decision we could have made at this particular time,” he told The Charlotte Observer after the meeting. “I’m not happy about it, but you know, sometimes you have to make decisions that are best for the city.”

As residents left the brief meeting at Pineville Town Hall, some shouted their displeasure at city leaders.

“We can’t wait for the next election,” said one.

Months of debate over the location of the Pineville substation

Word of the substation’s new location broke in December, when the city sent out a press release saying it was in the process of purchasing about an acre at the intersection of Miller Road and Greenway Drive for a new substation to support growth to receive and “serve” in the area. as a backup source for an existing substation.” The city chose the site because it was “the most economical and least intrusive to the community,” and the substation would be enclosed by a brick wall with plants surrounding it, the release said.

That release sparked an immediate backlash among neighbors, who expressed concerns about the potential impact on their health, safety and property values ​​and launched a petition to oppose the plan.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting about the proposal in January.

McColough resident Jarred Muraco said at Monday’s vote that he became involved with the opposition in December.

“I just don’t think it’s the best use of anyone’s time or money to do this,” he said.

Muraco questioned whether city leaders have been honest about the project’s financing and said he shares some of the concerns about health impacts and property values ​​that other residents have raised.

“The health problem is a problem. It’s ugly,” he said.

Some residents have said they are concerned that electromagnetic fields from the substation could lead to health problems, especially in children and the elderly. City leaders have pushed back on those claims during meetings about the plan.

Experts say there is no clear link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and health problems.

“The possible link between electromagnetic fields and cancer has been a subject of controversy for decades,” says the American Cancer Society, because “it is not clear exactly how electromagnetic fields, a form of low-energy, non-ionizing radiation, increase the risk of cancer.” can enlarge. risk of cancer.”

While the World Health Organization classifies “extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans,” the Environmental Protection Agency notes that “scientific studies have not consistently shown whether exposure to any source of electromagnetic fields increases the risk of cancer increases.”

McCollough resident Sean Price said the situation has him wondering how the city’s electric fund is managed.

“They are the stewards of this community as elected officials with a duty to serve their community,” he said. “I hope they will look in the mirror and use the alternative solution that people in this community are asking for.”

I-Chin Lin, another McCullough resident who first shared her thoughts on the project with the Observer in December, said Monday’s vote left her “disappointed.”

“They didn’t do their due diligence,” she says. “And now they’re asking us residents to pay for their surveillance. This is not acceptable.”

Why this substation location, and why now?

The city selected the top choice from the 10 locations examined, City Manager Ryan Spitzer and David Lucore, Pineville’s electric services manager and systems manager for ElectriCities of North Carolina, said at the January meeting.

Complications with the other sites included proximity to floodplains and wetlands and distance from usable transmission lines.

“There aren’t many options,” Lucore said at the time.

Pineville Electric, which provides electricity services in the city, is a public provider that is part of ElectriCities, which provides services to member organizations. Public energy suppliers differ from utilities such as Duke Energy because they are part of local governments and are often part of membership organizations such as ElectriCities.

City leaders say time is of the essence for the project because growth in Pineville means the city’s current power grid is close to being overloaded, which could lead to power outages. According to Census data, Pineville’s population grew from 7,479 to 10,602 between 2010 and 2020. According to the city’s 2022 population estimate, the most recent census data available, Pineville has a population of 10,886.

The new substation project should be completed by the end of 2025 to avoid problems, Lucore said in January.

During the January meeting, several residents wondered why more attention was not paid to one of the other ten locations. That location is near the one approved Monday, but farther from the subdivision. It would cost about $1 million more than the currently chosen site, Lucore previously said, an expense that could be passed on to consumers through higher rates. But some at the meeting said they would be willing to pay a slightly higher electric bill to pay for those higher costs.

Both parcels in question are owned by the Miller family. Spitzer indicated at the January meeting that the Millers, through their attorney, have resisted the sale of both parcels. But members of the family present at that meeting and their representatives said they would be more open to selling the other land than the controversial site.

Spitzer said after Monday’s vote that the city attorney will file paperwork to send letters to affected property owners, and they will have at least 30 days to respond. When asked if he thought the city could still negotiate the land instead of condemning it, Spitzer said, “That’s always the favorable outcome.”

Phillips said city staff have been working on developing a plan “for a couple of years,” but ultimately a decision had to be made.

“We’re on a pretty solid timeline that we have to meet,” he said.

Phillips added that he campaigned for fiscal responsibility and believes the chosen location is the most economical for the city.

“At the end of the day, we have a budget that we have to follow, and we have to try to have money available for other things that we have to do,” he said.

‘Less of two evils’

Despite the vocal opposition to the plan, not every resident at Monday’s meeting disagreed with the vote.

Laura Stout and Debby Brown said they have both lived near the existing Pineville substation for years and have never had any problems.

“It’s a difficult situation to deal with. But you have to do the lesser of two evils, I guess,” Brown said.

Stout said she has attended City Council meetings for years as the community has grown, and she wishes elected officials had done more to prepare for the challenges that come with development and growth.

“The rapid growth in Pineville is something that has concerned me and many residents for years. And we have been raising the alarm with the previous council for years that things needed to slow down because we didn’t have the infrastructure to handle this,” she said. “And now that has caught up with us. And if nothing is done, we will lose power, and of course no one wants that.”

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