Residents in the neighborhood of a proposed electrical substation came to the Stevensville Town Council and spoke up during the public comment portion of the March 14 meeting to express their concerns about the location. They did not believe it fit in the neighborhood and were interested in what the town government was going to do about it.
Officials from NorthWestern Energy came before the Town Council last August and announced that the company was proceeding with the installation of a new sub-station in the area and one property specifically identified was the three acres owned by the Missoula Housing Authority behind the Winslett subdivision. The Housing Authority previously had plans to build but could not get approval from the Town.
Sherry Dietsch told the Town Council, “Now NorthWestern Energy wants to come in and put a substation right in a residential neighborhood. There’s a daycare right there.” She also considered it a safety risk. She said that despite the lack of scientific evidence that it is hazardous, there is enough evidence to raise concerns.
“I don’t want to take that chance with my family,” she said.
She said besides the potential health threat there is the negative effect on neighboring property values. She said that she hoped the Town Council would take this issue to Bob Lake, who now serves on the Public Service Commission.
“I believe we have legitimate concerns,” said Dietsch.
She said that she hoped the Town wouldn’t just sit by and let this happen.
Councilor Ron Klaphake noted that the Council told NorthWestern Energy at the time that the company should set up a community meeting to discuss its proposal. He also noted that the company’s visit at the time was a “matter of courtesy” because there was no legal requirement for them to consult with the Town in making their decision.
“Just because it’s the most convenient and the cheapest, doesn’t make it best for this community,” said Dietsch.
Hyrum Tatton said that he would be looking at a substation instead of St. Mary’s mountain. He said he suspects there may be medical issues involved being so close to the substation, “but there is no question that large substations destroy property values.”
“If that’s what we want here in Stevensville, then just sit quietly,” said Tatton. He said it not only affects property values, “it affects who we are.”
“We are the ability to look out at St. Mary’s,” said Tatton. “You need to fight to save your town, and I will fight to save my property. I understand the law ties your hands, but I also know your power. The power to persuade. We need your power. Let’s put it somewhere reasonable, not amongst all these houses.”
John Conlan echoed the concerns of the others and said that he, too, was concerned and would be willing to help the Town if it decided to advocate for the neighborhood.
Lana Whiting, who also lives in the neighborhood, said that she had health concerns and noted that the location was too close to the school.
“I think the primary power in this consideration is you as citizens, the most directly affected,” said Mayor Gene Mim Mack. “We can advocate, facilitate, and bring the utility company to a meeting and say ‘you have to listen to these people,’ but I believe the power is with the citizens most directly affected.” He said that he would contact Bob Lake on the PSC.