April 6 2016 10:07 AM

BWL reconsidering Eckert as new substation site

To see a photo gallery of the Scott House, click here.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light is reconsidering the option it had previously rejected of locating a new substation adjacent to the Eckert Power Plant.

Although it prefers to build a new substation at the Scott Center city park, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Malcolm X Drive, the utility acknowledged this week that Eckert was a viable, though more costly, location for the facility needed to wheel power into the Lansing business district. Preservationists are fighting BWL's plans for building the Central Substation at the park because it would mean tearing down or relocating a 98-year-old house and moving the park's sunken gardens.

The district is served by a substation located at the Eckert station, which is expected to be closed by 2020. Officials have said plans post decommissioning include five power substations throughout the service region.

When BWL spokeswoman was asked if Eckert was back on the table as a possible location for the substation, she answered, “Yes.” Earlier, BWL had said the Eckert site, among seven or eight others, had been rejected in favor of the Scott Center.

However, Adamy added, “We are focusing on the Scott Center. That’s where we’ve proposed the project for and asked City Council to approve.”

Last month, the utility said the Eckert power station site had been considered and rejected because it is located in a flood plain and power conduits running under the railroad tracks are falling apart. It could also entail a rate increase of 1 percent to cover the additional cost.

The new reason the Eckert site is a second choice, Adamy said by email Tuesday morning, is that the proposal would raise the cost of the new substation from $26 million to $39 million and delay the shutdown of Eckert.


“This substation is the first piece in closing Eckert,” Adamy said. “By delaying the project here, it delays Eckert’s close by 2020. Eckert’s delay means more investment into making it operational for longer.”

The news that a second viable option for the power substation surfaces as the Lansing Park Board is scheduled to vote on a change to the city’s master plan that would eliminate the property from the allocated green space. That vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

James McClurken, a Park Board member, said the news was "completely new information to me,” he said.

McClurken and other board members voted last month to delay consideration of the master plan change for 30 days while they sought answers to a series of questions. Their vote is advisory only, but could inform votes by the Lansing Planning Board as well as the Lansing City Council. The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for May.

The Park Board could deadlock on the issue, said McClurken.

“As it stands right now, the three of us who prompted the delay" are still unconvinced the BWL plan is the right move, he said. There are eight members of the board, and approval requires a majority vote of five or more members.

Park Board Chairman Rick Kibbey said he is leaning toward voting yes on the proposal.

In February the BWL announced its proposal for the substation, which entailed demolishing or moving the 98-year-old Jenison House, known as the Scott Center, and recreating the sunken gardens. The garden was first created by Richard Scott in the 1930s and includes imported Italian stone.

In place of the park, BWL would build a 50-foot-tall iron skeleton power substation to be semi-hidden by walls ranging from 25 feet to 40 feet high. The plans drew criticism from Preservation Lansing, a local group. The opposition has since spawned a Change. org petition calling on city leaders to reject the proposal. And on Saturday, the granddaughter of Scott added her voice of dissent.

“I think it’s horrible,” Judy Scott Teegardin, now a resident of Holland, Mich., said while visiting the garden. “Absolutely terrible. I think it’s a slap in our family’s face. I know it’s not deliberate. But I feel like this is history of Lansing, why destroy it?”

A young Judy Teegardin plays in the Sunken Garden.
Courtesy Photo

She spent part of Saturday afternoon, as snow fell, showing family members and advocates around the property where she grew up.

“It was like being in a castle — I mean it was so gorgeous,” she said wistfully of the time she spent with grandmother Gertrude Scott. She was married to Richard Scott, an R.E. Olds executive. “ It was just kind of a magical place when you were a child and running around with all these flowers and beautiful things you felt like you were in an enchanted land. That’s what I like about it. It’s so tranquil.”

That tranquility, she said, was created by rows of roses along the southeast line of the property, the sunken garden that remains today on the eastern edge of the property, and to the west, a koi pond in the shadow of a giant willow tree. The current embankment along the southern edge of the property, overlooking the Grand River dozens of feet below, was once terraced and landscaped, with a footpath down the embankment to the river.

The path along the river included stone arches. The rubble of those arches remains to this day, buried in bramble and over growth since the city obtained a deed restriction waiver relieving them of the duty of keeping the footpath up. He grandfather stocked his gardens with flowers from around the world, and worked the land. After he died in 1945, Scott’s wife hired a series of gardeners to maintain the gardens.

Teegardin said her grandfather would be troubled by the proposal.

“He would be very, very upset if he knew what was happening,” she said. “They wanted to give back to the city. This was their way of letting people enjoy the parks. I feel don’t take anymore. I think it’s just very sad.”

And she has a message for the mayor, the Park Board and City Council.

“Find another place. You don’t have to take parkland. I am sure there is some other place you could put it. No one’s going to want to sit in a park looking at wires and towers and things like that. And it’s on the river. It’s prime property. Why?”

The stone arches at the bottom of a footpath on the south end of the Scott property along the Grand River.
Courtesy Photo