‘We were never asked.’ Pineville’s plans to build state line substation met with opposition

Residents of a neighborhood near the North Carolina state line say they have serious concerns about the town of Pineville’s plan to build an electric substation nearby that they only heard about through a news release.

Pineville is working to buy about an acre at the intersection of Miller Road and Greenway Drive for a new electric substation to accommodate growth in the area and “serve as a back-up source to an existing substation,” the town said in a Dec. 5 news release. The town picked the site because it was the “most economical and least obtrusive to the community,” and the substation would be enclosed by a brick wall with plants around the outside, according to the news release.

That statement was the first time Gui Batista, who lives in the nearby McCullough neighborhood, heard about the plan.

“This was sprung on us,” he said.

In the days since, the McCullough community organized a petition that now has hundreds of signatures calling on the town to find a new site for the project and started reaching out to local officials for answers.

Residents say they’re concerned the project would drag down property values and negatively impact health, safety and local businesses, “altering the character of our community irreversibly.”

“Our peaceful residential area could be transformed into an industrial zone overnight, disrupting our lives and altering the character of our community irreversibly,” states the petition, which had 628 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

How did Pineville pick substation site?

A map shared by the Town of Pineville shows where a proposed electric substation would be built near the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
A map shared by the Town of Pineville shows where a proposed electric substation would be built near the North Carolina-South Carolina border.

David Lucore, Pineville’s electric services manager and a systems manager for ElectriCities of North Carolina, told the Charlotte Observer the town looked at eight different sites for the project over the last 12 to 18 months.

Of those eight sites, two were “closer to a commercial area than a residential (area)” while the other six “were fairly close” to residential areas, Lucore said.

Pineville picked the McCullough neighborhood “for public necessity and convenience to serve new electric loads in the southern area of town near the state line,” the town said in its statement announcing the site.

The site is near residential areas and Miller’s Flea Market.

“This location was not determined without an extensive investigation into all possible sites,” the town said in its news release.

I-Chin Lin said she and other neighbors were surprised to hear about the plan and didn’t understand why a news release was the town’s first notice to nearby residents.

“We never heard of it … so we are wondering how come suddenly they are telling us about this?” she said. “From the press release, it’s like this is the best decision that they can make. This is the best option for them. But we were never told, and we were never asked about our opinion.”

Pineville Electric, which provides electric services in the town, is a public provider that’s part of ElectriCities of North Carolina, Inc., which provides services to member organizations. Public power providers differ from utility companies such as Duke Energy because they are part of local governments and often part of membership organizations such as ElectriCities.

Residents share concerns over health, safety and property values

Lin said she’s concerned the substation could cause her property value to drop. Homes in the neighborhood “tend to range from around $390,000 to about $765,000,” according to Charlotte-based Terra Vista Realty. Some residents are also concerned about the potential health impacts of the substation, she added.

Those concerns were echoed in the petition started by residents, which claims the project “jeopardizes our neighborhood’s property value and potentially our health due to potential electromagnetic field exposure.”

Experts say there’s not a clear-cut connection between exposure to electromagnetic fields and health issues.

“The possible link between electromagnetic fields and cancer has been a subject of controversy for several decades,” the American Cancer Society says, because “it’s not clear exactly how electromagnetic fields, a form of low-energy, non-ionizing radiation, could increase cancer risk.”

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that, while the World Health Organization “classifies extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans,” “scientific studies have not consistently shown whether exposure to any source of EMF increases cancer risk.”

Resident Katie DeFrancisci said the health concerns are top of mind for her and many others with families in the area.

“That’s the most scary thing for all of us, especially because this is a newer neighborhood and everyone has young kids,” she said.

Lucore said he wasn’t aware of any studies “that show any adverse effects from EMF or anything else from an electrical substation” and that high-voltage transmission lines already in the area “provide them a lot more EMF exposure than a substation.”

Batista, whose home would be among the closest in the neighborhood to the substation, says he has another safety concern: the possibility of an attack on the substation after an incident in North Carolina that drew nationwide attention.

In December 2022, about 45,000 homes and businesses in Moore County lost power for days after an attack on an electrical substation. Following that incident, state legislators increased the punishment for intentionally damaging or attempting to damage energy facilities, making such attacks a high-grade felony and allowing people who are injured or whose property is damaged by a utility attack to sue for monetary damages.

“Having something in our backyard that someone might try to fire a gunshot at, and that being a couple 100 feet from my backyard, where my 3-year-old twins and my 7-year-old play, is certainly something I’m concerned about,” Batista said.

Would substation plan jeopardize ‘local landmark’?

DeFrancisci said she and other residents are also concerned the substation could jeopardize a long-standing local business, Miller’s Flea Market, by forcing the family that owns it to sell their land.

In their petition, residents said Pineville’s proposal “disrespects the legacy of the Miller family.”

“We understand that substations are necessary for power distribution but we believe there must be alternative locations that would not negatively impact residential areas or infringe upon local landmarks like Miller’s Flea Market,” the petition states.

A call from an Observer reporter to the flea market went unanswered, and the business did not immediately respond to a direct message on its social media.

Lucore, Pineville’s electric services manager, said the owner of the land in question “did not want to negotiate” initially but that “attorneys got involved on both sides” and the two have been negotiating for about four months. The town is not considering using eminent domain to get the land, he said.

What’s next for substation plan?

Pineville’s town council needs to approve the substation site and buy the land before employees can obtain permits, get civil and environmental inspections and start construction work, Lucore said.

“The actual raising of anything out of the ground would probably be six months from the time the parcel is purchased or acquired,” he said, adding that construction could take two years.

The Pineville Town Council will hold a public hearing on Jan. 4 about the project.

Lin said she and her neighbors plan to be there to raise concerns.

“We believe there are more options,” she said. “It’s just that they think that this is the cheapest option for them.”

DeFrancisci said she and others plan on “contacting everybody we can” to share their concerns.

“They just need to find a different spot so it’s not so close to people’s homes with children. It’s just not safe,” she said.

Batista said he hopes Pineville leaders will pay attention to their own constituents and McCollough residents like him who, by a matter of a few hundred feet, live in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

“I understand that something needs to be done and that a substation needs to be stood up given the growth in the Charlotte area and Pineville specifically,” he said. “But I do wish that they had given a little more attention to the residences. I can’t help but feel that, you know, we kind of got the short end of the stick.”

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