East Hampton Village officials were asked to apply for an injunction to stop PSEG from all work on the East Hampton to Amagansett transmission line when residents of McGuirk Street and the surrounding neighborhood crowded into the conference room at Village Hall on Tuesday.
PSEG (Public Service Electric and Gas) Long Island, which took over from the Long Island Power Authority at the beginning of the year, is in the midst of increasing the power in its electric lines, with the stated goal of improving the reliability of transmission and making it more resilient to extreme weather.
The work has meant the installation of taller poles to carry new transmission lines, which residents fear pose a health hazard. Many also complained that they were not notified of the public hearing the village board held on the matter in September.
The old poles carry a 13-kilovolt distribution line, Bob Parkinson, the PSEG project manager, said. That line is to be transferred to new poles that will also carry a new, 23-kilovolt transmission line. The latter would be capable of transmitting 33 kilovolts if necessary, a PSEG spokesman said.
Helene Forst, a resident of the neighborhood through which the lines run, asked that town as well as village officials seek a court injunction until it could be conclusively established that the installation would pose no health risk. Ms. Forst also asked at what distance from transmission lines electromagnetic fields dissipate and would have no detrimental health effects.
“The first thing is the assumption that it’s dangerous,” Greg Olson, a distribution team leader with PSE&G New Jersey, a division of PSEG, replied. “There have been no definitive findings of magnetic fields having adverse health effect or any direct link to any health issues,” Mr. Olson said. He said electromagnetic fields dissipate very quickly with distance, and the fields here would be no different from those in other communities, where they are commonplace.
Terri Rauch, a McGuirk Street resident, asked Mr. Olson if he was “1,000-percent comfortable” that a new transmission pole at the corner of her property, from which electricity is provided to her house and “the headboard of my 17-year-old’s bed” is safe.
The 23-kilovolt transmission lines already coming out of the East Hampton and Buell Lane substations, which run along the railroad tracks, feed everything east of East Hampton, Mr. Parkinson said. The new 23-kilovolt line is apart from them because if, in the event of extreme weather, one pole fell on another, for example, they would take each other out of commission and “the entire South Fork goes out.” Hence, a diverse route, involving McGuirk Street.
The new poles, residents further complained, contain a hazardous chemical preservative. That chemical, said Wei Chiang, an environmental manager for PSEG Long Island, is diluted, pressurized, and injected into the wood, locking it in. “With time, a very small amount leeches out,” he conceded, but “the highest concentration you will see is right at the perimeter of the pole.”
Residents also asked about whether the lines could be buried, but were told by Mr. Olsen that burying them would typically cost 6 to 10 times more than an overhead installation. Underground installations are also vulnerable to failure, he said, and pinpointing the location of underground failures is difficult.
“We hear your concerns,” Vincent Frigeria, a regional community relations person for PSEG, told residents. “We’ll take them back.”
Residents criticized Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach and the village board, some suggesting that the September hearing was “clandestine” and that the project was being quietly shepherded to completion.
“If we’re going to take the heat, we’re going to take the heat,” the mayor said. “We’re trying to come up with substantive answers to your inquiries.”
The matter was to be discussed again at the board’s meeting this morning. “There are potentially certain legal actions the village may take,” the mayor said. But, he warned, local government may be powerless to halt the project.
“I am hard-pressed to say the work will not proceed,” he said. Ms. Forst objected. “You should be positive, and fighting for the people,” she said. “We’re not going to back down.”