Lawsuit filed over Emera permit for substation in Bar Harbor

Emera Maine recently cleared this 3-acre lot on Woodbury Road in Bar Harbor but, after local residents objected, the company has put its plans to build a substation on the property on hold while it considers other options.
Bill Trotter | BDN
Emera Maine recently cleared this 3-acre lot on Woodbury Road in Bar Harbor but, after local residents objected, the company has put its plans to build a substation on the property on hold while it considers other options. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 04, 2014, at 6:08 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A civil complaint challenging the town’s issuance of a building permit to Emera Maine for an electrical substation on Woodbury Road has been filed in Hancock County Superior Court.

The complaint, filed by local residents Donal and Patricia Murphy and Paula Moody, was filed in court on July 24, according to their attorney, A.J. Greif. Greif also lives in the neighborhood and has been a vocal opponent of the proposed substation.

Objections to the proposed substation at 37 Woodbury Road, which many neighbors have said is an inappropriate site for a 26,000 square-foot substation, have prompted the electrical distribution company to announce that it will put the project on hold and reconsider other possible sites for the facility. Emera has said that in the meantime, however, it will continue to hang on to the construction permit issued by the town for the Woodbury Road site, which is just off Route 233 near Kebo Valley Golf Course.

Emera has been pursuing plans to increase electrical capacity and reliability to downtown Bar Harbor for the past several years. Local residents also have objected to the company’s plans to erect new power lines and poles along Crooked Road — which Emera has said it also is willing to reconsider.

The town of Bar Harbor and Emera are named as defendants in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs contend that the substation was inappropriately permitted by the town as an allowed activity, rather than as a land use. Because the project would involve construction of a fairly substantial structure, it should be considered a public utility use of the property, which is not allowed in the neighborhood, according to the plaintiffs.

They also allege that the town’s appeals board should have determined that the Murphys filed a timely appeal of the town’s decision to issue a building permit to Emera. The Murphys claim that because the town never notified any abutters or neighbors that Emera’s building permit had been submitted or approved, the 30-day appeal limit should apply to when they found out about the proposal in early May, not to the date that the permit was issued on Dec. 10, 2013.

The complaint also claims that Bar Harbor’s building ordinances do not allow fences higher than 7 feet in residential districts, unless the property owner erecting the fence gets written approval to do so from every abutting property owner. Therefore, the neighbors allege, Emera’s plans cannot be permitted because the company did not get written permission from all the abutting property owners to erect the 8-foot high perimeter fence it has proposed for the site.

Bar Harbor town officials either were unavailable or declined to comment Monday on the lawsuit.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Emera, said that the process by which Bar Harbor or any municipality approves building permits is a matter between that town and its residents. As for the specific allegations listed in the complaint, Faloon declined to comment because she said she had not seen the document.

Demand for electrical service in downtown Bar Harbor has increased significantly over the past decade or so — and at times has contributed to outages — as the 1,250-employee Jackson Laboratory has expanded and as more downtown hotels have been built. Emera officials have said the company has upgraded some of its distribution equipment in the area as it has looked to increase power to downtown Bar Harbor.

The issue of reliability has come up frequently ever since a 2006 outage knocked out power to many downtown businesses on the Fourth of July, which is one of the most lucrative days of the year for many of Bar Harbor’s tourism-oriented businesses. The state Public Utilities Commission later faulted the company, then known as Bangor Hydro, for not taking pre-emptive steps that the commission said could have prevented the July 4, 2006, outage.

So far this year, there have been four outages with varying causes in downtown Bar Harbor. Emera officials have said a new substation in downtown Bar Harbor will not prevent future outages from happening but likely would reduce the impact of those that occur.

 

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