Sept. 28 2016 11:22 AM

Citing rates and health, Council approves BWL plan

In the end, a noisy coalition of preservationists, historians and tree lovers failed over nine months to persuade more than one Council member to oppose the Lansing Board of Water & Light’s plan to build a power substation in Scott Park.

Instead, seven members cited concerns about rates and the environment Monday night in siding with the $27.9 million Central Substation plan for the park at Washington Avenue and Malcolm X Street, just south of downtown.

The approval means the nearly 100-year-old Scott House will be torn down or moved. And the Scott Sunken Garden will be moved to what remains of the original park from its home on the outlines of the foundation of the 19th century home of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill. The Lansing Garden Club has long maintained it, but Sharon Burton, who belongs to the club, said the incensed membership may not do so after it is moved.

Only Carol Wood voted against changing the city’s master plan in order to accommodate the substation and various improvements on four acres of the five-and–a-half-acre park. She expressed concern about the “integrity” of city parks generally and BWL’s numbers backing the Scott Park plan specifically.

The rest, led by Jody Washington, who chaired the committee that held hearings on the proposal, said those concerns were outweighed by rate increases that the BWL said would be necessary to build the substation elsewhere. The biggest cost factor would be keeping open the coal-burning Eckert Power Station beyond its scheduled Jan. 1, 2020, shut down. The BWL said it cannot shut down the substation operating in Eckert’s shadow until the new one opens, and the current one depends on Eckert for operations.

Members Jessica Yorko, Jessica Spitzley and Adam Hussain also cited health concerns over keeping Eckert open since it burns coal.

About 30 opponents protested outside City Hall before witnessing the vote.

BWL maintains it will improve the remaining acre and a half by moving the sunken garden there to overlook the river, making it handicap accessible and placing it closer to Cooley Gardens with an adjoining walkway.

Of the four acres that the Council designated for the substation project, two acres will be used for the station itself. The rest will be used for decorated walls around it, a walkway above the river and a small park on the corner of Washington and Malcolm X.

The future of the Scott House remains up in the air. In May, Habitat for Humanity Capital Area and city officials announced a plan to move the home and rehab it into condos. But last week, Habitat withdrew from the deal, leaving the future of the house up in the air.

Voters will have the opportunity in November to approve a sale of the house. But even if voters do, it’s unclear who would purchase the house. The BWL has pledged up to $100,000 to fund moving the home to a new location.

The substation will have up to four towers reaching 50-foot in height and an assemblage of metal infrastructure and wires to take high voltage electricity and reduce it for transmission to customers in downtown Lansing. To address the industrial look, the utility has proposed a decorative wall around the structure to partially block it. The height of that wall has not yet been determined, officials have said, but it could be as low as eight feet in some points and as high as 40 feet.

BWL officials are still developing detailed plans for the project. “Following final approvals, construction on the substation would begin in earnest in early 2017 and take approximately two years,” said BWL spokesman Stephen Serkaian. “Work on relocating the Sunken Garden is expected to last about 12 months.”

The BWL has not yet submitted any site plans, a city official confirmed.

The battle to save the park from the bulldozers has also spawned a new citizens' group, Schrader said, called Speak Up Lansing.

It may also have triggered a challenge to Yorko, who is up for re-election next year. She represents the 4th Ward, home of Scott Park.

“I am very carefully considering and preparing a run for your seat,” Parks Board member Jim McClurken told Yorko during public comment Monday night. McClurken was part of a minority on the Parks Board that opposed the proposal in a vote in April.