BENTON — The sound has been waking Cherry Strohman up at night.
Scott Cyrway, a former Kennebec County deputy sheriff, described the noise as the humming you’d hear if you were inside a jet plane.
It woke up Selectwoman Melissa Patterson at 4 a.m. the other day; she described it as a car idling outside your window.
About 10 to 15 people living near the Central Maine Power Co. substation in Benton have been bothered by a persistent humming or buzzing noise since May, when the machine was first turned on. Irritated residents called CMP to address the issue but have been met with delayed responses and push-back, according to Selectman Antoine Morin.
“CMP says it’s looking for a solution, but at this point it’s dragging its feet,” Morin said. “We’ve made our frustration known to CMP about this issue.”
Residents and the town have been working on potential solutions, but they think CMP has been failing to rectify the problem. CMP, however, said it is taking the concerns the residents have seriously, but solutions to such problems take time.
The substation, which takes higher-voltage current and steps it down to a lower voltage before it is distributed further, is an intricate piece of machinery that includes transmitters, generators, antennas, towers and wires enclosed by a chain-link fence. It’s about a half-mile from the intersection of Albion and East Benton roads, between Blaisdell Lane and Patterson Road.
“The equipment makes a steady hum as it operates,” CMP spokesman John Carroll said. “It’s a really important part of our system.”
The substation was built as a part of the Maine Power Reliability Program, a project started by CMP in 2010 to modernize its power system. While the noise is a consequence of the substation’s operation, it is supposed to remain within the town ordinance limit of 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night. The nighttime limit of 45 decibels is a little below the sound of normal conversation and is recommended by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The substation has stayed within those parameters, Carroll said.
“We tested our equipment to stay in line with town and state ordinances and confirmed that we met those standards,” Carroll said.
The Board of Selectmen and residents have disputed CMP’s readings and said the company cherry-picked the time and days it tests for sound.
“They keep coming back and saying that they’re under 45 decibels, so tough luck,” Morin said. “We feel the reports have been flawed because they did them at their own discretion and time.”
Those tests were in August, after representatives from CMP met with concerned neighbors and the selectmen. After those test results were reported a couple of weeks later, CMP met again with the town to discuss taking readings at residents’ properties. Those tests took place Nov. 20, and Carroll expects the results in the next of couple of weeks.
“We’re committed on going back when the results are in and talk to the residents and town about what is next,” Carroll said. “That will tell us what sort of issue there is, what the extent of the problem is. We’re going through the process, and I understand residents are frustrated, because it’s a slow process.”
In the meantime, the board gave residents affected by the noise their own sound meters to measure the bothersome sound.
Strohman, 43, is a retired anesthesiologist who has Parkinson’s disease. Adapting to the disease made it hard enough for her to sleep as it was, but with the persistent noise from the substation, now it’s a nightmare.
“It woke me up at 2 a.m. this morning,” Strohman said Thursday from her kitchen. Out her living room door, two tall, skinny antennas from the substation could be seen poking out from behind a grove of evergreens about 500 yards away. Strohman lives off East Benton Road with her husband and her niece on more than 90 acres that have been in her family for 70 years. Strohman’s family hunted deer every year she can remember, to supply meat for the winter; and she said this was the first year they never came close to finding one. Between the noise of the substation and the effects it has on her and her family, she has thought about selling her family’s property, a thought that brings her to tears.
“I’m thoroughly disgusted,” Strohman said. “I’ve called customer service almost every day, and they call back and say, ‘Thank you for calling; we’ll report it,’ and nothing gets done.”
On Thursday, when Strohman was awakened at 2 a.m. from the noise at the substation, she went to her bathroom window and held the sound meter outside to get a reading from the substation.
“I was getting readings in the 50s continuously, and the high was 60.9 decibels,” Strohman said, referring to a log where she wrote down the readings. A reading of 60 decibels is equivalent to the noise of a conversation from three feet away.
Cyrway, who had reservations about the substation’s construction back in 2009, said he sent more than 40 emails to CMP about the noise problem and that nothing has been done to solve it.
“We had one of the most peaceful areas in Benton, and now it’s one of the loudest and obnoxious,” Cyrway said. “CMP and the town owe it to the residents to solve this problem.”
On Nov. 20, sound engineers for CMP went to four residences, including Strohman’s and Patterson’s, to take sound measurements. Once CMP gets the results, it plans to return to Benton to talk with residents and the selectmen.
“Once we get the report back and have the information, we’ll ask to be put on the agenda,” Carroll said. “Taking those results and putting them in report form takes a little bit of time. We’re committed to going back to them.”
In the meantime, the board will decide on Monday, at its next meeting, whether to go through with an independent sound measurement to counter CMP’s report of less than 45 decibels. The town is looking at hiring an independent acoustical consultant to run the test.
“If there’s a problem, fix it,” Morin said. “That’s what the affected neighbors want to see.”
Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at: