Southampton Town, LIPA agree to stave off work above ground

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Attorneys for Southampton Town and the Long Island Power Authority will return to court Friday as ?the town attempts to get a temporary restraining order to keep the utility from working on the aboveground portion of a new transmission line between Southampton Village and Water Mill.

The town and the utility reached an agreement on the afternoon of April 17 to prevent work from beginning on the aboveground portion of a new transmission line before April 25, though LIPA officials said that they hadn’t planned to begin work before then anyway.

The town issued a stop work order against the utility on April 16, preventing any aboveground work from being done, but rescinded that order the following day after reaching the agreement.

The 8.5-mile transmission line will run from Southampton Village to the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. The central 45 percent of the line was to be constructed aboveground, though neighbors would like to see it buried.

According to Town Attorney Dan Adams, no judge was available to hear the case last Thursday, April 17, so the two parties worked out a deal on their own at the courthouse.

Mr. Adams said LIPA officials informed the town during the meeting that they had not been planning to begin aboveground construction until April 25. He added that the Town Board members may not have threatened to sue had they known that the utility had not been planning to begin the work until that time.

He said that the Town Board is happy that this agreement gives them more time to work out remaining issues without resorting to litigation.

“It keeps it civil and gives us more time to find a solution,” Mr. Adams said of the extension of time provided by last Thursday’s agreement.

LIPA spokesman Ed Dumas said Wednesday that the utility company planned to file its argument in the temporary restraining order case by the end of that day and that the town and the utility will be in court Friday. “We’re definitely proceeding” with the work, said Mr. Dumas, who added that he believed the court would rule in LIPA’s favor.

Previously, the town agreed to allow LIPA ratepayers in Southampton Town who live in or east of Southampton Village to cover the $8 million cost of burying the entire line through a surcharge on their electric bills. However, LIPA had asked the town to provide indemnification against any lawsuits arising from the surcharge and to cover the cost of ratepayers who refuse to pay the surcharge, which is based on usage and would average $3.70 per month.

Town officials said last week that in addition to indemnity, the utility’s confidentiality policy for its ratepayers, which prevents it from sharing the details of non-paying customers with the town, was a sticking point. Mr. Dumas, however, said he was shocked that the town still considered the disclosures a sticking point after LIPA investigated the matter and decided that it could legally release information about delinquent rate payers.

Mr. Dumas said this was an issue he’d believed the two parties had resolved. He said that LIPA representatives called Mr. Adams on April 14 to say that they worked out a way to provide access to those records, but Mr. Adams never returned the call.

LIPA’s General Counsel Lynda Nicolino sent a letter to Mr. Adams on April 16 saying that the utility was “surprised to learn of your decision to litigate this matter at a time when we were so close to resolving all of the outstanding issues,” and detailing the manner in which LIPA can disclose the ratepayers’ information.

Mr. Adams said Friday that he had not received any information from LIPA regarding the disclosure issues.

“I’m not sure that issue’s resolved,” he said. “If there’s someone there who thinks the issue is resolved they have yet to communicate with me.”

Mr. Adams did not return calls for comment this week.

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