PSNH Plans to Expand Substation on Pulpit Rock

CHESTER – Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) is looking to expand its presence in the vicinity of Pulpit Rock Road and met with the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to present plans to build a new switching station there .
The plan as presented at the Sept. 17 meeting seeks to expand the existing substation, which faces Haverhill Road, with a new switch gear station. PSNH has already purchased a lot with an existing home off Pulpit Rock to accommodate its plans.

While PSNH is technically before the ZBA for variances dealing with its work in the wetlands and the need for an expansion of an existing nonconforming use of a residentially zoned area, the wetlands issue was not talked of much.
Neighbors have concerns over what the finished product will look like and whether it will reduce their property values and aesthetic enjoyment of their street.
Engineer Jennifer Viarango of Tighe and Bond Inc., which has drawn up plans for the project, noted that the stop with the ZBA was the first of many meetings with town boards and residents to get the project approved.
Viarango said she had already informally met with the conservation commission, residents and representation from the planning board on the project.
PSNH’s Laura Gaines explained that the project had been identified and suggested by ISO New England with the aim of increasing the reliability of the area’s infrastructure. It would provide more reliability for increased loads and would add to redundancy within the system, Gaines said.
PSNH engineer for the project Walter Bilynsky explained that the structure is designed to handle the ultimate buildout of the area, and further expansion should not be necessary.
Some discussion among ZBA members and those in charge of the project focused on whether there would be hazardous materials on site (no), how tall the poles would be (about 60 feet above the ground) and whether they’d need guy-wires and what kind of buffer would be left around the poles and between the station and the street.
ZBA member Cass Buckley asked whether there was an environmental impact study for the project. That study has not yet been created, but will likely be required under site plan review with the planning board.
Pulpit Rock resident Kevin Simpson said he understood why PSNH wanted to build the station, but had concerns about what he’d be looking at across the street when it was done. He pointed to the aesthetics of the current station as what he did not want to see, calling it a wasteland.
Bilynsky assured Simpson that they were willing to work with neighbors to mitigate the visual impact. He suggested planting arborvitae as a quick buffer to make up for the spaces between what is currently largely a stand of hardwood trees.
Bilynsky said PSNH was trying to keep as many trees as possible on site. He noted that there would be no transformers on site.
Michael Smith, also of Pulpit Rock, emphasized the importance of buffering as well. He noted that PSNH was coming into his residentially zoned neighborhood, removing a home and erecting an industrial looking building.
“It could change the whole character of the neighborhood if not dealt with appropriately,” said Smith.
While Smith thanked the engineers for looking into buffering and keeping as many trees on site as possible, he noted that there wasn’t a whole lot of land to work with in the first place.
Bilynsky said he was willing to work with the neighbors, but they should not expect instant results, as trees and brush take time to grow.
“We’ve built a lot of substations, and many of them are overgrown,” said Bilynsky.
Board chair Billie Maloney said that on the plus side of the project, the area being built on would be cleaned up. She called it a junkyard.
The ZBA membership agreed to visit the site and continued the hearing until Oct. 15.
Bilynsky agreed to compile a list of similar switchyards in the area that residents or ZBA members could visit to get a sense of what is planned in Chester.

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