High-voltage electrical transmission lines over a six-mile route in East Hampton Town could be buried within 16 months, provided East Hampton finds a way to finance the underground project, David Daly, the president and chief operating officer of PSEG Long Island, promised town and village officials and residents on Friday.
Meanwhile, however, the installation of utility poles up to 65 feet high along village and town streets to a substation in Amagansett will continue despite calls by residents for it to be stopped. However, according to the agreement worked out on Friday, the large poles, which will hold 33-kilovolt wires, would be removed if the lines are buried.
The $7 million overhead transmission line project is well under way, with 246 of 266 poles already installed as of March 5.
At a crowded Town Hall meeting that day, Mr. Daly agreed to take a second look at alternatives to the above-ground wire extension, but, he said, in order to ensure reliable service, the current project must be completed. Residents opposed to the project say the poles have destroyed the traditional bucolic nature of their neighborhoods and damaged mature trees through digging and severe pruning, and that the high-tension lines could pose a health hazard to those living close to them.
Last Thursday, the East Hampton Town Board passed a resolution demanding the burial of the lines and asking for financial assistance and intervention from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. By Friday, the utility chief had received a letter from Audrey Zibelman, the chairwoman of the New York State Public Service Commission, which said the commission would review the project at Gov. Cuomo’s request.
Ms. Zibelman commended PSEG Long Island for agreeing to review alternative power line routes. But, she wrote, “in the event that an acceptable alternative is found,” the commission would like to “ensure that costs related to ongoing construction are minimized.”
Therefore, she said, the utility must provide the state with information about when it expects to complete the studies of the alternatives, including how their costs would be covered, as well as information regarding what steps can be taken “to ensure summer reliability at least cost to all ratepayers” while the alternative options are being evaluated.
Mr. Daly is expected to put in writ ing this week an agreement discussed at a follow-up meeting on Friday attended by local officials, representatives of a residents’ group called Save East Hampton: Safe Responsible Energy, and of PSEG, and by State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
Three routes for the underground transmission lines, or combinations thereof, are to be laid out and presented for public discussion within four months, and the most cost-effective and efficacious, in terms of energy delivery resilience, is to be chosen by mutual agreement. Only the new high-voltage lines would be buried; poles and lines that deliver electricity to individual customers and carry lines from other utilities would remain in place.
A summary of possible funding sources for the power line burial project will be prepared within a month. PSEG officials estimated burial could cost $4 million a mile — with a low estimate of $2.3 million a mile and a possible high of up to $5 million or $6 million, depending on site conditions and methods.
East Hampton ratepayers will likely be asked to shoulder the cost, as occurred in Southampton Town when an agreement to bury a similar stretch of line was hammered out with the Long Island Power Authority, which formerly controlled the power distribution lines.
The availability of grant money, including a portion of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds recently earmarked for upgrades to Long Island energy delivery systems to make them more storm-resilient, will be explored.
Members of Save East Hampton- Safe, Responsible Energy, the group that brought about the re-evaluation of the project, want it stopped now, even if the lines are eventually to be buried.
In an email this week, the group said that it is “committed to fighting the continuation of the project as it is.”
“The safety, health, and environmental issues that concern Save East Hampton would be in effect for close to two years while the poles remain up,” the group said in the email.
“Were the project to stop at once, the money saved could be used to pay for the cost of removing the parts of the project that have been completed.”
The group is advocating that community members continue to write to elected representatives and tell them to “halt the overhead project now.” It has posted contact information on its Facebook page.
Earlier this week, the Garden Club of East Hampton wrote just such a letter to New York’s governor, state and federal representatives, and local officials, to “strongly oppose the looming power poles and above-ground wires currently being installed. . . .”
“We have for 100 years steadfastly worked to protect the beauty and the environment of our community. We would be remiss if we did not step forward now to protest this assault on our values and our mission,” wrote Gigi Mahon, the president of the garden club.
The new transmission line connecting three power substations is needed, Mr. Daly said last week, to ensure reliable power to 8,000 PSEG Long Island customers here, including a number in Montauk, where two diesel-powered substations were recently decommissioned. Without the new lines, he said, brownouts or blackouts could occur during peak summer demand. “There’s a very serious reliability problem from this point east,” Mr. Daly said last week at Town Hall.
However, when pressed by a representative of Senator LaValle’s office, who asked, “Where is the urgency?” he conceded that “It’s very possible that we could go the summer with no problems.”
A follow-up meeting of all the representatives is scheduled for the end of the month.
“This is a fluid situation; certainly not finalized by any stretch of the imagination at this point,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday. “In a relatively short period of time, we’ve made positive progress. But we still need to hammer out the details,” he said earlier this week. He credited the assistance of Gov. Cuomo with getting “where we are today.”
Mr. Cantwell said a big-picture understanding of the long-term plans for power supply to East Hampton Town is needed, with information about potential future power line upgrades and the roles that utility-supported projects such as the solar power projects on town land, for which the town board has solicited bids, will play.
He said he has asked PSEG Long Island for a power supply map and for information regarding future plans, and that he would like to initiate discussions with the utility, after the current issue has been resolved, “so the public and the town can understand, and have input.”
“This is all connected — we haven’t been given all the pieces yet,” he said. “Give me the big picture here; I don’t want to deal with this on a crisis basis.”