More than two dozen Grenloch neighborhood residents attended the November 13th Washington Township meeting to voice their strong concerns about the planned Atlantic City Electric substation expansion project scheduled for a site located near the intersection of Hurffville-Grenloch and Woodbury-Turnersville Roads.

At present, Atlantic City Electric operates an electrical substation on the less than one-acre property acquired by the utility in October 1961. According to Jacob Sneeden, Regional Communications Manager for Atlantic City Electric, the substation was originally constructed “in the 1960’s to host a single transformer that dates back to the 1970s” and failed during the summer of 2019. It was partially restored to provide temporary service to the community. A second transformer was added to the property this summer, according to Sneeden, to back-up the original failing one, which is still operating on the property.

Appearing on the New Jersey Free Press radio program on Saturday, November 16th, Sneeden said that the original transformer “reached the end of its useful life and must be replaced and modernized to continue to provide power service in the community”. When asked why the utility chose expansion in this location, so close to a residential development and not in the adjoining Gloucester Township, Sneeden said that “90 percent of the customers benefiting from this project are in Washington Township. “The project will improve reliability for 12,000 existing Atlantic City Electric customers in Washington and Gloucester townships”, he said. The substation “serves only about 1,300 customers in Gloucester Township” Sneeden said. He also said that the “infrastructure was already in place to provide power to both communities” and that “relocating it to another site would be more impactful to residents in both communities”.

According to the utility’s recently filed Public Notice about the upcoming Washington Township Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, the proposed upgrades consist of “partial demolition of the existing substation” on the original property, and an expansion of the substation’s footprint to “the southwest to include Lots 10.11 and 10.12”. The upgrades proposed include construction of a 1,050 square foot control building, two switchgear building, three transformers with concrete pads and other substation equipment.

Immediately adjoining the current substation site, lot 10.11 was previously used by the Washington Township Fire Department and was acquired by the utility from Washington Township on May 28, 2013 for $425,000. Another adjoining property – lot 10.12 – was acquired on August 31, 2018 from private owners for $400,000. Lot 10.11 with the address of 463 Hurffville Grenloch Road is currently zoned as Institutional, while lot 10.12 is zoned for residential use.

Originally scheduled for December 9th, Atlantic City Electric has temporarily postponed their plan to present their “preliminary and final major site plan and use variance” to the Washington Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.  When rescheduled, the utility will be seeking a zoning variance and approval to construct the expanded power substation. Sneeden noted that if approved, the project’s construction is expected to begin mid-2020 and be completed by May 2022”.

“Not so fast”, says neighbors of the site whose homes sit in the shadow of the current and proposed expanding substation. John Szigethy, who also appeared on the New Jersey Free Press radio program, lives immediately behind the substation. He serves as one of the lead community spokespeople. Szigethy said that “this project will have a negative impact on the home values and the health of the residents” near the expanded substation.

Szigethy said that, “during the past year, when they did their upgrade to the substation, you could feel our houses shake and fill up with the dust from the construction”. “If we have to put up with this over the next two or three years, it’s going to be quite a burden”, he said. “My back yard is right-up against the site, and when it’s quiet at night, or when I am in my backyard, I can hear and feel the constant buzzing from the substation’s transformers” he said.

When visiting the site to meet with utility spokespeople, reporters from this newspaper easily heard the transformer buzzing and asked utility representatives if the “buzzing” would continue after replacement of the two and expansion to a third transformer. They responded that they “didn’t think so, because the newer equipment is not as noisy as the older transformers”. When asked if the electromagnetic fields generated by the equipment will increase after new transformers are added, utility spokespeople said that “they will take readings at the site to see if there is an increase” but said that they didn’t believe that they would.

Patricia Redden, another neighbor of the proposed site, said that “a project of this type and magnitude will negatively impact myself , my family, my neighbors, our property and property values, and the surrounding environment”. “For myself, this home is my nest egg and hopefully my children’s inheritance – however, my daughter has already stated she wouldn’t live here and raise my grandchildren”, she wrote in a formal statement to the Washington Township Council.

Redden noted that “I’m disabled and on a fixed income. My taxes will continue to increase and my home value will decrease if this project is allowed to continue”. “ACE (Atlantic City Electric) has been increasing our delivery charges to pay for these expansions”, and “other substations are located away from residential areas, such as industrial/commercial areas, and rural farmland”, she said. “My objections to this expansion are: location, noise pollution, environmental pollution, residents stress and anxiety, and decreasing property/home values”, she noted.

Area residents weren’t the only Township people concerned about the scope of the expansion. During the meeting, both Township Mayor Joann Gattinelli and Council President Joseph Perry noted their “serious concern about the project”. Perry noted that, although he attended a weekend community “Open House” sponsored by the utility a weekend prior to the Township meeting, he was “seriously concerned about the impact the project could have on the area residents”. Township Solicitor Stuart Platt noted that town officials were “unable to speak on the record about their specific concerns at that time” but promised that a statement would be made after more was learned about the project.

We will keep the Washington Township community informed about when the utility reschedules its hearing before the Washington Township Zoning Board of Adjustment