BENTON — Central Maine Power will continue to conduct studies at its substation on Albion Road in hopes of reducing noise emitted by the complex, but the additional work could take several months, which aggravated affected residents and the selectboard at Monday night’s meeting.
Discussion about the substation ranged from civil to contentious for more than an hour Monday night, as more than 30 people attended the meeting, including CMP spokesman John Carroll, Public Utilites Commission ombudsman Leah Sprague and several frustrated residents. Additional studies of sound mitigation, as well as residents working with Sprague, the PUC and the utility company on solutions, were discussed as potential steps forward.
Several compliance issues, such as the substation’s visibility from residences and its appearance from the road, were also discussed.
“We’re going step by step in this process, and we’ll keep moving forward to figure out how to solve it,” Carroll said, adding that a completed report looking into sound mitigation techniques could take roughly two or three months. “All we ask for is patience.”
Neighbors of the Albion Road substation have complained about a persistent buzzing since May, when the substation began operation. Another study that will take several months to complete irked the residents who have been bothered by the sound for more than eight months.
“Our complaints are about this constant noise,” said Cherry Strohman, one of the residents affected by the sound. “It’s been going on for too long.”
The substation, which takes higher voltage current and steps it down to a lower voltage before it’s distributed throughout nearby communities, has caused frustration and distress for about a dozen Benton residents.
Last month, CMP released the results of its November sound level tests at four residential locations near the substation, indicating that the substation was in line with the town’s sound level ordinance. Previous sound level tests at the substation site were conducted in late June and were also in line with the town’s ordinance, according to CMP.
The November tests, which were conducted from late night on Nov. 20 to early morning Nov. 21, were run during a night of calm wind and clear skies with temperatures between 25 and 32 degrees, according to the report by TRC Environmental Corporation of Lyndhurst, N.J. Ten-minute measurements were taken at two locations at four nearby homes, while a control sound level meter was conducting measurements at the substation.
The sound level at each location was below the 45 decibel limit, at between 25 and 35 decibels, according to the report. Residents believe that CMP cherry-picked the times it took its test to receive lower sound level readings.
“Every resident who had their home tested said that the sound wasn’t as loud as other times,” said Sprague, the ombudsman for PUC, sitting near several residents affected by the noise. “If you have four different people say the sound wasn’t as loud during the testing as it had been, then I question the credibility of the test.”
While the tests showed that the noise level was in compliance with town ordinances, both Carroll and Anthony Agresti, who oversaw the residential testing, admitted that the substation is audible at the residences.
“We’re not here to say residents can’t hear the substation,” Carroll said. “The number of decibels is not that important. This is still an issue for CMP.”
Residents and members of the selectboard, however, believe that CMP has been dragging its feet reporting back to the town its sound level reports, and they worry that another drawn-out study and report won’t change anything in the near future.
A sound mitigation study would look into what could be changed at the substation or constructed at its location to lower the audible sound that is reaching the surrounding homes. The test would take several months to conduct and would provide insight into what differences any modifications would make, Carroll said.
“The next step would be to look at any modifications to the equipment and what those modifications would produce,” he said.
Other compliance issues with the substation, including its visibility at several residences and from Albion Road, were brought up by selectman Antoine Morin. Those issues were going to be reviewed by CMP, according to community relations manager Chris Marshall for Burns & McDonnell, the engineering firm that oversaw construction of the substation.