Town to seek restraining order against utility

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Southampton Town Board members agreed to file a lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority on Tuesday afternoon after a nearly two-week standoff over a new transmission line that’s being laid between Southampton Village and a substation on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

If the town goes ahead with the suit, which it is expected to file today, April 17, it would also seek a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the utility from completing further work on the project until a deal is reached. LIPA officials have previously stated that the line installation must be completed before July or the South Fork could face brownouts, or rolling blackouts, this summer.

Currently, LIPA plans to bury 55 percent of the 8.5-mile line and place the remainder on large telephone poles along a stretch of side roads in Water Mill.

The town has been working with neighbors who oppose the aboveground portion of the project on a plan in which Southampton Town residents living east of Southampton Village would pay the additional $8 million cost of burying the entire line. LIPA has thus far been unwilling to adopt the plan and wants the town to cover the costs of any lawsuits relating to the project, which the town has refused to do.

Two weeks ago, the town issued stop work orders and filed a notice of intent to sue the utility in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead, but rescinded the threats in the hope of reaching a deal with LIPA within that week.

That hasn’t happened and it now appears that the town will move forward with its lawsuit.

“We are still hoping that we will reach a mutually satisfactory solution, but the reality is we haven’t,” said Town Board member Anna Throne-Holst, adding that the sticking points involve “indemnification and disclosure and privacy issues.” She declined to comment further.

The town requested that LIPA respond to its threat by Wednesday.

After receiving word of the town’s intent to sue, LIPA spokesman Ed Dumas said that utility officials had believed the town had engaged in good faith negotiations up until the threat of a lawsuit ?on Tuesday. He said that LIPA would more likely argue its case in court ?than respond to the town’s threat ?beforehand.

“I’m no longer optimistic at this point,” he said, adding that LIPA is “open to coming back to negotiations if the commitments made during last two weeks can be honored.”

Mr. Dumas stated on Tuesday morning that though the underground portion of the project is proceeding rapidly, LIPA does not plan to begin work on the aboveground portion of the route before the end of April.

The Committee for a Green South Fork, which was formed last year in an attempt to stop the aboveground portion of the project, already filed a lawsuit against LIPA, along with other residents affected by the project, on March 28. Steve Abramson, who is a representative of that group as well as the chairman of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee, said that LIPA has not yet responded to the suit. He added that he was encouraged by the town’s decision Tuesday.

“It’s great. We’re happy to see it,” Mr. Abramson said. “It’s overdue. LIPA seemed to be very disingenuous about their actions here.”

Mr. Abramson also said that he thinks LIPA’s insistence that the town provide indemnity to the utility against lawsuits was “tantamount to extortion.”

Mr. Abramson said the new proceeding filed by the town could set the project back by a month, possibly delaying work on the aboveground portion of the project that is about to begin. “I don’t think they can afford to have the delay in the cards,” he said, referring to LIPA.

LIPA maintains that it needs to have the new line in place by the July 4 holiday weekend in order to avoid brownouts throughout the East End.

“I think they snookered the town into withdrawing their stop work order,” said Mr. Abramson, referring to LIPA representatives. “I think they were using delay tactics.”

If the town moves forward with the suit, it will be filed by the town’s special council, Farrell Fritz P.C., which has offices in Bridgehampton.

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