State Help Sought on Power Lines

Supervisor, in letter, calls PSEG Long Island’s pole project a ‘travesty’
PSEG McGuirk Street, East Hampton
Local officials, including East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., are seeking Governor Andrew Cuomo’s intervention to halt PSEG Long Island’s transmission upgrade. Morgan McGivern

       The Town of East Hampton has come out against PSEG Long Island’s push to upgrade its transmission lines in East Hampton and Amagansett, a project that has galvanized many residents in opposition.

       On Tuesday, Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging his “immediate intervention” to halt the ongoing installation of new, taller poles and transmission lines. The lines should be buried underground, the letter said, and federal money allocated for Hurricane Sandy relief should be directed to that end.

       “I am appealing for your help to correct a travesty in my community,” Mr. Cantwell wrote to the governor. “This project is taking place in small residential neighborhoods where some homes are but 20 feet from transmission lines and poles.”

       “These are very difficult circumstances,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to bring this to the governor’s attention, because we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

       At the town board’s work session on Tuesday, Mr. Cantwell said he had spoken with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.’s office to seek help in scheduling a meeting with the governor as soon as possible, to “get some of the answers I think we should have gotten before the project began,” regarding both the route and the cost of burying the lines versus installing them above ground. Previously, PSEG officials had dismissed subterranean installation as cost-prohibitive and problematic.

       Mr. Cantwell noted that the former town board had resolved last June to seek funding from the state Office of Emergency Management, hazard mitigation grant program, to have electrical transmission lines buried. Under the terms of such a grant, which the supervisor said could be applied anywhere within the town, the state and federal governments would reimburse the town for 75 percent of such a project’s cost.

       Mr. Thiele said this week that he and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle are trying to get through to the governor, and that they have written to the state Public Service Commission seeking that agency’s involvement. “I certainly support the intervention of the executive branch in this. I think we will need their involvement to get PSEG’s attention,” he said.

       He said that, while he was not familiar with its wording, the resolution Mr. Cantwell referred to could be key to the town’s strategy. “It appeared that per haps on this one, the horse was out of the barn, except for the fact that there are federal funds available for storm mitigation and a whole focus on that now,” he said. “I do think that gives us a fighting chance.”

       The project as presently structured is costing $7 million, Mr. Thiele said, whereas burying the new lines would cost “somewhere north of $20 million.” Federal funding, he said, could defray an added cost to ratepayers, should PSEG Long Island agree to bury the lines.

       Residents of McGuirk and nearby streets in East Hampton Village, many of whom said they had not been notified of a public hearing held by the village board in September with representatives of the utility, have been agitating for help from town and village officials to reroute the project. They have attended village and town board meetings and a Feb. 10 meeting of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, and are circulating a petition demanding a halt to the project until their concerns are addressed.

       Jack Forst, a resident of nearby Newtown Lane, said yesterday that he had “never seen a utility company working at such a feverish pace,” implying that PSEG Long Island is eager to finish before any complication arises. Crews were seen yesterday toiling away on Toilsome Lane.

       The residents assert that electromagnetic fields emanating from electrical transmission lines pose serious hazards to human health. Greg Olson, a distribution team leader with PSE&G New Jersey, a division of PSEG, disputed that, stating earlier this month at a Village Hall meeting that no definitive findings had been reached. Residents are also dismayed by the aesthetic impact the poles, some as tall as 61 feet, would have on their neighborhood, and also fear negative effects on property values.

       Mr. Cantwell’s letter described the historic houses and scenic farm vistas nearby the poles and transmission lines, which also run along Town Lane in East Hampton and Amagansett, and stated that “the project is contrary to the Town of East Hampton Comprehensive Plan and contradicts the New York State approved and locally designated Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance.”

       The letter also recounts the Long Island Power Authority’s preparation of an environmental assessment for the project and filing of a negative declaration pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act in October. “There was no public review of these documents and no public participation in the process,” the supervisor wrote. At Tuesday’s work session, he called LIPA’s environmental assessment and subsequent negative declaration a “major flaw in the process.”

       Mr. Cantwell acknowledged to the governor that the prior administration had issued a road-opening permit for the project last year. “The lack of public participation and consideration of this project would cause the Town of East Hampton to consider legal remedies,” he wrote, if not for the expiration of the four-month timeframe in which LIPA’s no-harm-to-the-environment assessment could have been challenged. At the Amagansett Citizens meeting, Mr. Cantwell had expressed frustration that such a challenge was no longer “one of the hooks we could have used legally” to intervene.

       Officials of PSEG Long Island, which assumed management of Long Island’s electrical grid from LIPA on Jan. 1, have stated that the upgrade is necessary for its transmission infrastructure to withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Routing the poles in proximity to existing lines along the Long Island Rail Road corridor, as some have suggested, is unwise, they say, because poles falling on one another could result in a regionwide power outage.

       Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said Tuesday that, “to the extent applicable, the village underscores the language that Larry Cantwell offered to the governor. We likewise want to formalize correspondence with the governor.” Becky Molinaro, the village administrator, said the village and town are arranging a meeting with PSEG Long Island officials “to review the costs associated with burying lines.” No date has been set yet, but Mayor Rickenbach said a “small contingent of residents” would be invited to attend.

       A PSEG Long Island spokesman did not provide a comment by press time.

With reporting by Joanne Pilgrim