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Waterfront electric substation gets fenced in, sans barbed wire

National Grid

Buffalo's Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday rejected a plan for an eight-foot fence topped by a foot of barbed wire to guard a new electric substation on the edge of the city's waterfront, but did agree to a fence.

National Grid says the new facility at 1000 Furhmann Blvd. is important in its power grid, starting with 115,000-volt power and transforming it down to a lower voltage. The facility could be eventually expanded.

"The substation will be a primary source of electricity for several of Buffalo's largest industrial and commercial uses, including the operation of General Mills, Archer-Daniels-Midland, the Buffalo River Improvement Corp. and the NFTA," said National Grid lawyer Ben Weisel. "These customers rely on constant power supply and they cannot afford any disruptions to their operations. The substation is required to ensure these customers have a safe and reliable power supply."

The substation would be built below Ohio Street near the CSX yard and the Buffalo River Improvement site. The utility offered to install vegetation to screen the limited view from Ohio Street.

Because it is so high-voltage and there will be no employees, alarm system or surveillance cameras onsite, National Grid asked the Zoning Board for that fence and barbed wire for safety. Michael McPeck, National Grid's manager of substation engineering construction, said there are severe safety issues to a 115,000-volt substation.

"There was an incident over in New England, probably back about a dozen years ago, where somebody got inside of a station," McPeck said. "They had bolt cutters. They went to cut and they were trying to steal copper from us. Well, guess what? They cut into a live line. That gentleman died. His buddy went to try to help him and as soon as he touched him, he's gone."

There was significant opposition to the utility's request from the public during the hearing. Deborah Lynn Williams said she lives near a brick National Grid installation that has no barbed wire.

"That other people have barbed wire fences is kind of silly," Williams said. "What people did before isn't really relevant. Lots of things were around and disallowed in society in all kinds of aspect over time, and then the rules changed. The rules have changed. We have a Green Code now. I'm not opposed to a fence. I think we can do a lot better, but I certainly don't see a need for barbed wire fencing."

The board agreed to a seven-foot fence and did not comment about the screening vegetation.

Credit National Grid
A rendering of the safety fence requested.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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