Substation fight lands in court

BAR HARBOR — Residents unhappy with plans by Emera Maine to build a new electrical substation in their neighborhood are taking their protest to court.

Donal and Patricia Murphy filed suit against Emera and the Town of Bar Harbor in Hancock County Superior Court on July 24 two weeks after the board of appeals here threw out their challenge on a technicality. They are joined in their court filing by Paula Moody, whose property abuts the Woodbury Road lot where Emera holds a permit to build a 26,000-square-foot substation.

Attorney Arthur Greif says in court papers that code enforcement officer Angela Chamberlain overstepped her authority when she issued the permit for the substation in December 2013 without any public notice or public hearing process.

Chamberlain’s issuance of the permit without notice or hearing is based on her interpretation of the land use ordinance (LUO). According to the ordinance, there are certain activities in the Village Residential zoning district, where the proposed subdivision would be built that are allowed without a permit. These include activities necessary for managing or protecting land, earth moving or filling of less than 16 yards, some forest management and public utility installation.

Chamberlain issued a permit for the substation based on the idea that it is a public utility installation. While the ordinance requires no permit for such activity, she said, she asked the power company to apply for a permit because all other structures in town require a permit. However, she said, she treated the project as if it did not need a permit.

In the court documents, the Murphys argue that Chamberlain wrongly interpreted the LUO, and that a facility the size of the proposed substation should have gone before the planning board. The language in the LUO that allows public utility installation is meant to cover small things related to home construction, such as a new power pole, not a half-acre substation, opponents claim.

The planning board earlier this month found that the Murphys’ appeal of the December 2013 building permit had not been filed within the required 30-day window.

Emera Maine officials are working with an advisory committee of residents and business owners to determine if a different location for the proposed substation might be feasible. They have said that the project is on hold for the immediate future while the process plays out.

Several major downtown power outages this summer have demonstrated the need for a new substation and revamped distribution network downtown, Emera officials have said.

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Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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