East Hampton Town, PSEG Seek Cooperation Amid Confrontation Over Utility Poles

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As East Hampton Town officials wait to appeal a court ruling declaring PSEG Long Island’s electrical supply infrastructure exempt from local zoning restrictions, Supervisor Larry Cantwell said this week that he hopes the court battle with the utility provider will lead to better cooperation going forward, regardless of the outcome.

The supervisor said that PSEG has made overtures seeking to mend some of the deep rifts that led to the two-pronged legal challenge to the utility’s installation of new transmission lines mounted on hundreds of new, taller poles between its substations in East Hampton Village and Amagansett.

“I think they are recognizing that they need to keep the town and the other communities they are working in more aware of their plans in advance of the decisions being made,” Mr. Cantwell said. “They have reached out to me, and I think they want to try to establish a better working relationship than they had to this point. That’s a good thing—it’s a first step, anyway.”

A spokesman for the utility said that the utility does, indeed, want to see a more “partnership-type” approach to its work on the transmission lines and its electrical supply service in general, and said it would not be moving ahead with the final stages of connecting the new transmission lines to the power substation in Amagansett until they had talked with the town.

“We want this to be amicable,” spokesman Jeff Weir said. “We want to look at what path to take for the work now that we have the ruling in hand, [and] we’ll work with Larry Cantwell on that.”

The ruling, issued earlier this month by a state court, sided with PSEG and the Long Island Power Authority, saying that they do not have to abide by local zoning codes. The town issued a stop-work order a year ago on expansion of the Amagansett power substation because PSEG, which contracts for the maintenance and operation of LIPA’s supply infrastructure, does not have an approved site plan for the property.

Once the upgrades to the substation are made, it could be connected to the six miles of high-voltage transmission lines already installed between East Hampton and Amagansett.

Courts have similarly held in the past that other public service utilities, like the Long Island Rail Road, do not have to abide by local zoning or even notify the local municipality before undertaking projects within its boundaries.

Another lawsuit still pending against PSEG, filed by a local nonprofit, claims the new transmission lines and the more than 260 extra-tall poles that they hang from are an environmental and health hazard. The group has demanded that PSEG remove the new poles, which it says place the high-voltage lines too close to some houses and are leaching toxic chemicals into the ground. That suit is still pending and awaiting a judge’s ruling.

Rebecca Singer, co-chair of the group, Long Island Businesses For Responsible Energy, said that if PSEG wants to work on better cooperation with the town and community, they would be welcomed, but that the group’s demands that the poles be removed stand.

“The poles that are up right now are unacceptable to us,” Ms. Singer said. “We’ve asked to have the line taken down and undergrounded. We need a full cost analysis of doing that … to see what it would cost residents who might be affected and how it could be paid out.”

When residents called for the undergrounding, well after the project to install the new lines and poles had begun in late 2013, PSEG said the project would cost $4 million to $6 million per mile, more than $30 million in total. Ms. Singer said that her group has been told by other sources that the cost would actually be lower but that PSEG has never provided a detailed breakdown of the costs.

Mr. Cantwell said that the town has already taken steps to appeal the recent ruling and will ask for a stay of the ruling to prevent PSEG from completing the work at the substation and activating the transmission lines before the appeal is heard. But, he added, he is hopeful that simply talking with PSEG will lead to a simple agreement to maintain the status-quo for the time being.

“My role here is to defend what I think the community’s rights and needs are,” Mr. Cantwell said. “To the extent that PSEG wants to have a better relationship with the Town of East Hampton, I’m always going to favor that over confrontation.”

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