LIPA Sues Southampton Town for $200k Over Buried Power Lines

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The Long Island Power Authority is suing the Town of Southampton for $201,000 in delinquent bills from a special assessment charged to some town residents for burying transmission lines.

The assessments are owed by some 2,800 residents from areas where power lines were buried between Southampton and Sag Harbor, generally following Head of Pond Road and Scuttle Hole Road, after residents complained that the new transmission lines would be an eyesore and spoil some of the town’s broadest vistas across open fields and horse farms.

When the town and LIPA reached an agreement in 2008 to bury the 7.5-mile transmission line, rather than mount it on poles roughly double the height of typical utility poles, the town agreed to allow the residents to be charged the special assessment for the cost, as well as to assume responsibility for any unpaid assessments by the residents. The cost to bury the lines was about $11.1 million more than hanging the lines from poles would have been, according to LIPA.

The transmission line runs from LIPA’s substation on North Sea Road in Southampton Village to one on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike near Sag Harbor.

The visual benefit assessments, as they were dubbed, are charged to 20,000 households in the regions determined to benefit from eliminating the visual impact of having the transmission lines above ground. Each household pays an additional fee of 0.3 cents per kilowatt hour. LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said the assessment comes out to about $2.30 per month for the typical household in the region.

The 2,800 households that owe back assessments are delinquent on the rest of their LIPA bills as well as the assessments, which are included in residents’ monthly bills, Mr. Gross said.

Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said this week that the town has some doubts about the way LIPA has been billing residents for the assessments, an issue that will be addressed in its response to the lawsuit.

“The town is getting bills from LIPA for hundreds and hundreds of customers who LIPA claims have not paid small amounts: 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents,” Ms. Scarlato said. “They were supposed to upgrade their billing system and that’s where there seems to be some confusion.”

On Thursday, the town hired O’Brien & O’Brien to handle the lawsuit. It will pay up to $15,000 for the defense.

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