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Mobile transformer too loud, say West Townsend neighbors

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TOWNSEND — Every five years, the electric substation in West Townsend needs to be serviced and a mobile transformer is used to keep the electricity flowing.

The mobile transformer is used for a two-week period and then is taken off-line, said Alec O’Meara, media relations manager for Unitil. The substation steps down power from the high tension lines to service several thousand customers.

Neighbors say the temporary equipment that runs all day and night is too noisy.

Sometime around 2001, similar equipment ran for five or six weeks, said Cindy Boundy, who lives across Main Street from the substation.

“It makes an awful lot of noise,” she said.

“Unitil said, ‘Jeez, we’re sorry. We had no alternative. This won’t happen again,'” Boundy said.

When the mobile transformer fired up again in 2013, it only ran for two weeks.

“If you’re living near it, that’s an eternity,” she said.

Boundy knew what to do.

“Both times that they’ve installed this piece of equipment, we contacted the Nashoba Boards of Health,” she said.

The first time they came out, over 10 years ago. Nashoba took a decibel reading, she said. At the neighboring house, she was told the noise level was equivalent to running an industrial vacuum.

Before Boundy’s complaint in 2013, O’Meara said Unitil had never received noise complaints about the equipment.

In 2013, when she contacted Nashoba, Rick Metcalf, Townsend’s health agent, went to the site. His decibel reader was broken and by the time he could borrow a replacement from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the machine had been turned off.

He was not employed at Nashoba when the first reading was done, and did not find the records of the earlier visit, he said.

“There might have been a problem and there are ways to fix it,” Metcalf said.

Unitil officials attended a selectmen’s meeting in Townsend in September to discuss the problem. The utility company is “happy to look at options,” O’Meara said.

After the meeting, they expected to receive a copy of the noise study, he said.

“We would like to see that noise study and then we’ll look at our options,” he said.

Unless the substation is affected by weather, the mobile transformer will not be used again for five years, O’Meara said.

Metcalf said he was told by DEP that a similar installation in Leominster had problems with noise and that the company used its own in-house personnel to rectify the situation.

The selectmen sent a letter to John R. Di Napoli, municipal and community services manager at Unitil, one of the Unitil officials who attended their meeting in September.

The letter, dated Nov. 18, reads in part:

“The Board is dissatisfied with the progress Unitil has made to date in committing to address the noise issue going forward.

“The Townsend Board of Selectmen hereby expresses its expectation that upon installing a mobile generator in the future Unitil will install a sound barrier sufficient to muffle the sound caused by such mobile generator.”

The neighbors also had an issue with lights that were used after the mobile transformer was removed in 2013. “It was like being at Fenway Park, it was that bright,” Boundy said.

Although the lights were installed in 1990, they had never been used before, she said.

The lights were not a problem for long.

“They shut the lights off. Whatever’s there is fine,” she said. “The lights are taken care of.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.

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